Opportunity Is Knocking in Downtown Wheeling and Investors Are Answering

Vision, know-how come together in Wheeling

Photos by Casey Junkins Real estate investor Dean Connors said he has spent about $500,000 to purchase and renovate three downtown Wheeling buildings, including the former Stenger Business Systems building at 1035 Chapline St.

WHEELING — Dean Connors said until 2016, he had no interest whatsoever in spending money on downtown Wheeling real estate — but within less than two years, he has spent about $500,000 to purchase and renovate three buildings for commercial use.

“Five years ago, you couldn’t have given me a building in downtown Wheeling. It was just stagnant. Nobody was doing anything,” Connors said. “Now, it’s a totally new ballgame.

“Downtown Wheeling is going to happen, big time,” he added. “Now is the time to get in.”

More than two years ago, officials with The Health Plan announced they would bring their headquarters to downtown Wheeling, and with that project nearing completion the activity continues to grow. In early 2017, the 73-unit Boury Lofts joined the already successful Stone Center Lofts.

More loft apartments are under construction at the Flatiron Building, as well as the former Gerrero Music building, while a developer continues working on plans for about 100 apartments in the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel structure at 1134 Market St.

Connors won’t rule out apartments for any of his three buildings — including two on Market Plaza and the former Stenger Business Systems building on Chapline Street — but he said it’s more likely they will house retail or other “commercial” space.

“We are looking mostly at commercial — law offices, accounting offices, photography studios, etc.,” he said. “We constantly hear people say, ‘They ought to do something.’ Well, we are they.”

Connors said he acquired the building at 1057 Market St. more than a year ago. This Market Plaza structure already housed the Mmm…Popcorn business on the first floor, along with a couple of apartments on the upper floors, he said.

“I didn’t really have to do anything there,” Connors said. “It was already in really good shape.”

Next, Connors moved on to the building at 25 11th St., at the south end of Market Plaza.

He said a law firm will occupy this space.

Then, on Nov. 30, Connors acquired the former Stenger Business Systems building at 1035 Chapline St. This building will house the Information Helpline community service agency on the first floor, while Connors continues renovating the upper floors.

At age 48, Connors said he remembers coming to downtown Wheeling as a child to see businesses such as Stone & Thomas, G.C. Murphy, L.S. Good’s, J.C. Penney, Sears and Boury Inc. thriving.

“They all had big signs,” Connors said of these storefronts. “That’s not going to happen again. … I think downtown Wheeling is going to be a lot of residential units and commercial office space, with some retail and maybe a few restaurants.”

Connors noted the 1035 Chapline St. structure is near the HRC building at the corner of 11th and Chapline streets. Until moving to the Ohio Valley Mall in approximately 1979, this was the downtown Wheeling Sears store.

“It is so lost to two whole generations now,” Connors said of the former downtown Wheeling. “I can say, ‘It’s by the old Sears building.’ They have no idea where that is.”

Although Connors declined to identify other potential investments, he said he is constantly looking for new opportunities. He said private investors are the key to the downtown Wheeling’s resurgence, as groups such as the Regional Economic Development Partnership and government officials can only do so much.

“It is not the city’s responsibility to open restaurants, grocery stores or apartments. It’s the responsibility of private entrepreneurs,” he said.