Vandalia Auctioning Properties

WHEELING – The Vandalia Heritage Corp. is selling some of its properties at a loss to continue its mission of historic preservation and redevelopment in Northern West Virginia, said Laura Kurtz Kuhns, the organization’s president and chief executive officer.

Kuhns said the organization “probably acquired more properties than we could handle” when it was still receiving a congressional earmark from former Rep. Alan Mollohan. That funding went away with Mollohan’s defeat in the 2010 primary, leaving Fairmont-based Vandalia with the choice of keeping its portfolio and not doing much in the way of historic preservation or selling some properties.

That has led the organization to already auction some properties in Fairmont. The next auction is set for next week in North Wheeling.

An advertisement that has appeared in The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register last week sets an auction date of 6 p.m. June 17 for the following Vandalia properties:

– 753 Main St., which houses Uncle Pete’s Restaurant on the main floor, three occupied apartments on the second floor and unfinished office or living space on the ground floor;

– 745-747 Market St., the former Nesbitt Grocery building, which currently is being used as an office on the main floor with apartments on the upper floors; and

– 813 Main St., a two-story apartment building that offers two apartments.

The auction is being handled by Behm’s Auction and Real Estate Services and will take place in the Historic Tea Room at 807 Main St., Wheeling. The auction is for the buildings only, not the businesses.

“We’ve owned these properties for five years and really haven’t gotten to them yet,” she said of the three North Wheeling locations. “We continue to believe that Wheeling’s a great market, a very historic market. We’ve decided to go through the auction process, and we’ll see what happens. If we have to sell some of our properties at a loss so that we can continue our historic preservation efforts, that’s OK.”

Vandalia purchased the three properties, plus more than a dozen others, from the Victorian Wheeling Landmarks Foundation in 2008.

There is a reserve for each property in the auction. Kuhns said Vandalia’s goal is to sell the parcels to a developer “that has the resources to rehabilitate them properly. That’s a plus if it happens.”

Vandalia has sold three other North Wheeling properties in recent years – 811 Main St., the Hess property; 821 Main St., the John List House; and 817 Main St. – to families looking for a primary residence. She noted the organization will continue to own a number of significant properties in Victorian Old Towne, including 823 Main St., 807 Main St. and 749 Main St., along with others.

The financial challenges of rehabilitating Victorian-era structures is a struggle for Vandalia, Kuhns added, particularly with the loss of federal funding.

“When we set out to do these (Wheeling) redevelopment projects, we got a little overwhelmed,” she said. In some cases, “we ended up taking three years to do an 18-month project. … What we want to do is continue our historic redevelopment and infill where it’s appropriate. … It’s our hope moving forward to sell most of our commercial properties.”

Vandalia in recent years has been focusing more on residential work, she said, using the East Wheeling housing project as an example. The renovation of five 1880s-era homes on 12th Street in East Wheeling – known as the Churchfield Buildings – also has consumed much of the organization’s time and resources.

She expects Vandalia to post a large financial loss for the current year due to the auction in Wheeling and also the Fairmont auction. She also noted utility bills and general maintenance of a Victorian structure can be very expensive.

“We are always up against the challenge of deferred maintenance, and the natural gas bills alone from some of the Victorians we own is a big hurt on our budget,” she said.

As for the new housing development in East Wheeling, located along Wood Street between 14th and 15th streets, Kuhns said the $2.6 million development has 12 units, six of which already are leased. Several others are pending, she said, with hopes to have the entire development leased by mid-summer.