Demolition Won’t Be a Fort Henry Club Option

WHEELING – All options are on the table concerning future use of the former Fort Henry Club, its new owner said Tuesday.

All options, that is, except demolishing the historic downtown Wheeling building that for decades was home to one of the city’s most exclusive social organizations before closing two years ago.

“A big part of our business is historic restoration,” said Ernie Dellatorre, president of the architectural firm McKinley and Associates, which closed on its purchase of the building from St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church Friday. “That building’s pretty significant to Wheeling, and we wanted to step up and save the building.”

According to Dellatorre, use of the more than 160-year-old building at the corner of 14th and Chapline streets will depend on what types of tenants express interest in renting space there.

“All options are on the table, whether it’s office space, living space, or whatever,” he said, noting it would likely be one or the other, though a mixed use is possible. “The building is now available.”

Both parties met to close on the sale Friday. The deed was recorded Tuesday at the Ohio County Clerk’s Office, but it wasn’t expected to be available to the public until this afternoon. The Rev. Mark Seitz, rector at St. Matthews, did not disclose the exact purchase price but said it exceeded $70,000 – enough to cover what the church had invested in the building.

Built in 1850, the building became home to the budding Fort Henry Club in 1890. By the late 2000s dwindling membership cast doubt on the organization’s future. Its neighbor across the street – St. Matthew’s – in 2009 paid the club $40,000 for the option to buy the building for $1, and exercised that option in December 2011.

Seitz said church officials decided to acquire the building to prevent it from falling into the hands of an owner who couldn’t afford to renovate it. But after receiving a cost estimate of about $900,000 to fix the building, church officials realized they, too, fit into that category and were prepared to seek bids to demolish the building before McKinley and Associates expressed interest in buying the property.

Dellatorre agreed it will cost at least that amount to renovate the building, but noted the work can be done in stages as needed, depending on the number of interested tenants. Immediate needs the firm hopes to address by the close of the current construction season include repairing a leaky roof and other winterization measures, he said.

Although there’s no shortage of space available for rent in downtown Wheeling, Dellatorre believes the former club’s historic appeal and its location in the heart of the city’s “financial district” between the City-County Building and the Federal Building will make it attractive to tenants.

“It’s a great piece of property,” he said.