State taxpayers will help fund demolition of the former Reichart Furniture Building in downtown Wheeling.
The building, most recently known as the "Heritage Port Business Center" and owned by Santinoceto Enterprises LLC, has been vacant for the past few years. The structure's interior has received extensive damage due to broken water pipes, and the building is slated for demolition in the next few months.
West Virginia Economic Development Authority Executive Director David Warner said the state owns a 70 percent stake in the building, with Main Street Bank holding the remaining 30 percent.
Warner said the two entities obtained the building's title in a joint foreclosure.
That foreclosure occurred after Santinoceto Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in 2008. The state EDA and Main Street Bank had jointly issued a $600,000 loan to Santinoceto Enterprises for the purchase and renovation of the building. Warner said the two entities had a shared collateral position on the loan.
Though there are no cost estimates for the razing, Warner said the Economic Development Authority will pay its share in state tax dollars to flatten the Reichart building. Once the structure is leveled, Warner said the state and Main Street Bank will attempt to sell the lot, located on the west side of Main Street across from the 1100 block.
Main Street Bank President Rich Lucas said the bank is still in the bidding process for insured and bonded contractors that can handle the demolition. Though Lucas said no schedule has been set, he noted that he wants the Reichart building "on the ground before festival season," referring to the activities at Wheeling's Heritage Port in the summer.
One interested party to the Reichart Building's future is Wheeling businessman Ben Schneider. As owner of the photography studio next door, Schneider said he is bracing for the planned demolition and what it could possibly do to his business. The two buildings do not share a common wall but are located only inches apart.
Most concerning to Schneider is that no one from Main Street Bank or a contracting company has approached him to discuss any demolition plans. Lucas said that should happen as soon as a demolition contractor is selected.
Schneider said the one thing he does not want to do is relocate. He purchased the building in August 1987, saving it from a potential demolition.
Citing a love for Victorian-style architecture and keeping business local, Schneider, formerly a member of Friends of Wheeling, said he believes in saving heritage and bettering a deteriorating downtown.
"I've been here 23 years and it's so sad to see (Wheeling) deteriorate as far as it has," he said. "It's hard to have a business here."
Schneider said he ultimately supports Mayor Andy McKenzie's plan for the 1100 block as well as demolition of the Reichart building, because all of those buildings do not fit into the Victorian scheme and they would be too expensive to restore. He recalled the financial struggle he went through to refurbish his building, which is much smaller than many other buildings slated for demolition.
Though damage from demolition is on his mind, Schneider also worries for the north side of his building, which he has never seen. He said he fears that the fallen structure could reveal years of deterioration on his building that could be a huge hit to the wallet to fix.