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High Hopes for McLure Hotel in Downtown Wheeling

Photos by Eric Ayres Taking in a view from the roof of the McClure House, Roxby Development President Jeffrey Morris said his company intends not only to keep the downtown Wheeling landmark operating as a hotel well into the future, but also to transform it into a venue that hosts special events and creates an atmosphere that attracts more people to the area.

WHEELING — A downtown Wheeling landmark is officially under new ownership, and no time has been wasted to begin writing a new chapter in the rich history of the hotel known by most people as The McLure House.

This past week, the deed was filed making Roxby Development the new owner of the sprawling property at 1200 Market St. Most recently labeled the McClure Hotel by previous owner Fran Garey, the building was purchased through a public auction. Roxby Development shot high on the venture, securing the sale with a bid of $6,245,000, with a $250,000 buyer’s premium.

Jeffrey Morris, president of Roxby Development, said the property could have been sold to another buyer who may have likely kept the hotel in operation. But Roxby’s vision for the McLure House shines far beyond simply maintaining the status quo.

“I feel like we kind of took one for the team because we really overpaid for it in that auction, knowingly,” Morris said. “We were afraid that someone would get it who would have different plans and intentions that would not create a draw to downtown. We have a lot of property that we’re developing downtown and in East Wheeling, and we know that having not just a hotel but a hotel that people want to stay in is critical to downtown success.”

Morris noted that Roxby originally was not interested in purchasing the McLure, but when the property was put up for auction, the potential for the investment began to come into focus.

“Originally, we were interested in it for independent living, but we realized that a hotel was just so important to the downtown area,” Morris said. “It brought a lot more people in and made all of our other buildings far more viable.”

Roxby development actually took “mild possession” of the property and started prep work on the building about two weeks before the transition of ownership was finalized. A man-lift was rented, and pressure washing of the building began before a fresh coat of primer last week started displaying noticeable changes in full view of the public, which has been abuzz with curiosity over word about the new ownership.

As renovations proceed, the hotel will remain in operation and welcoming overnight guests throughout the process, Morris noted. In fact, one of the hotel’s biggest weekends of the year is fast approaching with the return of the Heritage Music Bluesfest.

“For Bluesfest, we’re fully booked,” he said. “We’re trying to get some of the rooms that were out of order because of maintenance-related issues reopened so we can offer more rooms, because there’s a waitlist.”

A heating, ventilation and air conditioning company was on site last week working on interior improvements, and some fresh art was added inside as well to bring a “little life and vibrancy” to the hotel while initial upgrades unfold.

“We’re going to immediately deal with the deferred maintenance issues — things that caused the majority of the complaints,” Morris said. “We’ve also brought on board a new general manager and assistant manager who we’re really excited about.”

The timeline for short-term and long-term renovations is tight, according to Morris, who said the goal of an initial “spruce-up” in the first 90 days is to make the McLure a place worth recommending to out-of-town relatives. But plans go well beyond basic functionality and curb appeal.

“Over the course of 18 to 24 months, we’ll do a floor-by-floor, top-down renovation where we will do a full overhaul of all the HVAC systems, the cosmetics, new bathrooms — just a full 40-year renovation to bring it into more of a four-star draw to the city,” Morris said.

Work to improve the McLure House in downtown Wheeling commenced with no delay as Roxby Development officially took ownership of the Friendly City landmark this past week. The hotel remains open for business as crews were bustling both inside and outside performing work to upgrade the facility. On the exterior, a new coat of primer was being applied to the facade, which is expected to be painted white.

A HISTORIC WHEELING HOTEL

Parts of The McLure House were initially built in 1852. The structure has been transformed on numerous occasions over the years since original hotel owner and namesake John McLure Sr. welcomed businessmen from Pittsburgh riding into town on horse and buggy.

A 13-year-old bellboy who worked at the hotel in the late 1800s — E.M. Statler — developed a passion for the hotel business and quickly moved up through the ranks at the McLure House. Into the early 1900s, he continued to hone his career and eventually built a groundbreaking, nationwide hotel chain that ultimately was sold in 1954 to Conrad Hilton for $111 million, the largest transition in industry history at that time.

A new round of additions and renovations took place at The McLure House in the early 1900s. Over the course of the decades that followed, a total of 11 U.S. presidents stayed or visited The McLure House during stops in Wheeling. Newspaper articles tell of visits by Teddy Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Iconic celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and others did, as well.

In the early 1980s, the lobby area and other parts of the McClure House were torn out and rebuilt to what can be seen today. Morris said the “Wheeling legend” about a hidden gem atop the hotel is true. During the renovations in 1983-84, the owner designed a room surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass walls atop the building, but ran out of money and left it unfinished. It has been used for storage since.

“It’s never been opened to the public,” Morris said. “It’s bizarre. It has incredible views of Wheeling.”

BIG PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

Roxby Development’s restoration includes plans to showcase the never-before-utilized, glass encased supper club room on the top floor, which currently is packed with old furniture, Christmas decorations and other items in storage.

“Our plans for the time being are to create a cocktail lounge with small-plate food service,” Morris said about the unique space. “We’re not going to do heavy food service there. We just want to get people up there to see the city, to come downtown and to see that there’s things going on in the hotel.”

There are also plans to re-open the lobby-level bar and bring back live entertainment. The bar’s current décor may remain for a while, Morris said, despite being “cheesy to the point where it seems intentional.”

Morris said the property’s name will soon be switching back to The McLure House, but eventually, there will likely be a fresh re-branding.

“There is an apartment tower on 12th Street that is part of the property,” he said, noting that this section will likely keep part of the recognizable name. It will likely be called The McLure House Apartments. “It has the only part of the facade of the original structure that still exists, and it’s a beautiful building.”

OTHER ROXBY DEVELOPMENTS

While keeping other future ventures close to the vest, Morris said Roxby Development is forging ahead with a number of Wheeling-area projects that will breathe new life into some notable structures in town.

A full restoration is taking place at the old Scottish Rite Cathedral building on 14th Street. Morris said they plan to transform the 105-year-old building into a center for food, beverage, events and entertainment. Earlier this year, Roxby Development purchased hilltop property on Grandview Street that was once The Point Overlook Museum. A cosmetic, art-gallery style renovation transformed the site into the Cliff House West, a venue available for rent to host small events.

Roxby also purchased the 12th Street Garage with plans to install a new roof as soon as materials are available. That facility will provide parking for events at the Scottish Rite venue. Work also continues at the old Mount Carmel Monastery, where Roxby Development is transforming the property into a boutique hotel with a restaurant, lounge and courtyard.

All of the investments and the work by Roxby Development coincide with a wave of improvements taking place in Wheeling — and they aren’t just construction. Morris noted that the general state of mind among folks in the city is changing for the better.

“There is a lot of excitement downtown, and I think it’s incredible,” he said. “I live on 14th Street, and in the last nine months, I have seen a noted and active attitude, environment and vibe that is awesome, and it’s growing.”

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