Development agencies eye Wellsburg buildings re-use

WELLSBURG – Once an elementary school and later the headquarters for the Brooke County Board of Education, the building at 17th and Charles streets could become home to several specialty shops. That's one idea being explored by members of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority and the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle. The groups joined Shari Beckstrand, the building's owner, in entertaining suggestions for the 235-year-old building during an open house Tuesday attended by members of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce, city officials and others. Many came to see changes that had been made to the building by Beckstrand, who moved into the building several years ago and provided tours of the two-story structure. Formerly of Bakersfield, Calif., Beckstrand was brought to the Ohio Valley by her former husband, who came to attend a meet for dealers and collectors of off-road motorcycles. An antique collector, she soon discovered the Rogers Flea Market and initially purchased the building to store the antiques she bought there. To create more space, the walls of several small offices used by the school board on the first floor were knocked out, wood paneling was stripped from the walls to reveal the building's original brick walls and a deteriorating ceiling on the second floor was removed. The second floor includes three large rooms beneath a 15-foot attic. Beckstrand said a previous owner removed much of the building's asbestos, as she found very little of the fire-resistant material. She said steps have been taken to upgrade the electrical wiring, while she is exploring heating and cooling options. She also hopes to replace the windows with more energy-efficient ones and repoint some of the brick. “It's a work in progress,” Beckstrand confessed, but she and others hope the building can again serve a function in the community. She said many local residents are seniors, so making the building handicap-accessible is a must if any business is to be a success. Norm Schwertfeger of the Brooke County Economic Development Authority said the building could become home to a hot dog or ice cream shop, taking advantage of its close proximity to two city parks, as well as antique, craft, sewing supply and other specialty shops. He said when he's in Charleston he frequently visits a used bookstore with a coffee shop and can envision such a business operating there. Schwertfeger, who also is a Brooke County West Virginia University Extension agent specializing in economic development, brought a list of 166 franchises that require investments of less than $50,000, some as low as $9,500. Pat Ford, executive director of the BDC, said because the building is in the city's historic district, the owner may be eligible for tax credits for renovation costs. He said depending on its condition and whether a commitment has been made by a prospective tenant, funds also may be available from the state Economic Development Authority and federal Environmental Protection Agency. Ford said the BDC is planning to provide technical assistance at this point and may establish a committee of officials and citizens to explore the building's options and preserve its history, as it has done with the former Brooke Glass factory. He added the building will join others featured in YouTube videos posted on the Internet by the BDC to attract potential investors. Such efforts have received a boost through a $10,000 grant from the West Virginia Development Office to employ Alexa Frankovitch, a Weirton native and intern from Chatham College in Pittsburgh, in producing the videos. Beckstrand may be the best advertisement for the city itself. “I just love Wellsburg and the people. If you just look, you can do anything you need to do here,” she said, adding many businesses are a walk or bicycle ride away. Beckstrand also touted its close proximity to Pittsburgh. When she lived in California, the nearest airport was three hours away, while the Pittsburgh International Airport is less than an hour, she said. Asked what she would like to see open in the building, Beckstrand said, “I'd just like to see something the community would like and utilize. I don't want it to be a curiosity for a while and that's it.”

– See more at: