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Loft apartments proposed for old Wheeling store

Image from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register The current state of an upper floor of the Stone Center and how it would become a living space.
Image from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
The current state of an upper floor of the Stone Center and how it would become a living space.

WHEELING, W.Va. — The concept of downtown living in Wheeling went from talking point to reality Wednesday with the announcement of a $2 million housing development planned for the Stone Center at Market Plaza.

The Woda Group – which operates the Providence Greene apartments in North Wheeling and has two other housing projects in various stages of development in the city – unveiled plans to convert the top three floors of the building, which once housed the Stone & Thomas department store, into 22 loft-style apartments expected to be ready for occupancy by September or October.

Known as the Stone Center Lofts, the one- or two-bedroom units will be non-subsidized, market-rate apartments with rents ranging from $700 to $950 per month, according to Woda Group Inc. President Jeff Woda.

Joining Woda for the announcement were city leaders and officials with the Regional Economic Development Partnership, which owns and manages the Stone Center. Mayor Andy McKenzie, who has long identified housing as one of the city’s most critical needs, believes Stone Center Lofts will serve as a launchpad for further housing and business opportunities.

“I’m confident this project will attract even more development. … The demand for living in Wheeling is stronger than it’s ever been,” he said.

The apartments feature open designs, kitchens with appliances included and, for those on the Main Street side of the building, at least, a view of the Ohio River. McKenzie said approximately 40 assigned parking spaces for tenants will be available in the garage at 10th and Main streets and in the surface lot across Market Street from the Stone Center, both of which are city-owned.

When the apartments are rented, all but two floors of the eight-story Stone Center – the second and third – will be occupied, and RED Program Director Craig O’Leary is proud to say that with the recent addition of Wheeling Jesuit University’s physical therapy program and the expansion of longtime tenant Williams Lea’s operations, there are now more people working in the building than when it housed the Stone & Thomas department store.

RED has owned the building since 2004, and the housing project announced Wednesday is an example of how long-term redevelopment strategies can take unexpected turns, according to O’Leary, whose job includes lease negotiation for the building.

“Housing was not one of our original directions, but it certainly fits with what’s happening downtown,” he said.

Promoting a livable, walkable downtown was among the goals outlined in Wheeling’s new comprehensive plan adopted last year. McKenzie said those who eventually move into the Stone Center Lofts will have exercise opportunities in the Wheeling Heritage Trail and J.B. Chambers Recreation Park, entertainment in WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre and about two dozen different dining options, all within walking distance.

Officials hope having more people call downtown Wheeling home will remedy what has long been seen as a barrier to revitalization: the nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday nature of activity there. Outside of special events, the streets take on a deserted atmosphere during evenings and weekends as the downtown population shrinks from thousands to perhaps a few hundred.

“This is a game-changer for that,” said Joelle Connors, business development specialist for RED. “Restaurants can’t survive on lunch alone.”

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