By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
An emergency meeting of Shinnston City Council convened at noon last Friday to consider the purchase of property in the downtown area. It was a matter that had to reach an immediate decision or the opportunity would have passed them by, Mayor Sam DeMarco said. Council unanimously voted to purchase the former G.C. Murphy building located in the center of the downtown area!
“We had looked into how we might be able to utilize this property several years ago, and then just in the past week this opportunity more or less fell in our laps and we had to act quickly because others, too, had expressed an interest in it. It was fortunate that we had first refusal. Some research on the property had been done back in 2012, so we didn’t go into this purchase blind. We also arranged a lot of consulting in the past week before we voted on our decision to move forward with it,” the Mayor stated.
The property was purchased for unpaid taxes in 2015 by Oak Hall. His company, WVTB, LLC is located in Pocahontas County. Shinnston City Manager Amy Wilson said she didn’t know what the gentleman’s exact plans were for the building, but she noted that typically purchases like this include plans for rental units.
“He had only seen the property one time and decided it was not what he needed. Since the building’s interior is pretty wide open with not many interior walls, if that had been his plan, it would have been a lot of work,” she stated.
Back in 2012, the City had done a feasibility study and had an appraisal done on the property as well as looking into various grants – so a lot of the groundwork was already in place.
“Just during the past week, we had a couple of engineers and architects go through it once again to give us their opinions, and all were in agreement that it was well worth the asking price of $20,000,” Mrs. Wilson continued. “Our plan is to utilize all three floors of the property. We would like to have our City offices located there, a community complex that could be rentable for events, space for our senior citizens group (with their requested kitchen), and perhaps utilize the first floor for some incubator businesses.”
Wilson said the City will proceed cautiously with funding being the biggest issue. However, the City has an established working relationship with the WVU Brownfields Building department, and what they want to see is rehabilitation when possible … buildings not torn down but made usable again. Wilson said this will make it easier for the City to get support from them when seeking funding. She is already researching grant possibilities and historical tax credits.
“This came about very quickly, but I am already looking into many avenues of possibilities. In addition, former City Manager Debra Herndon and former City staff member Emma Clarke had gotten mini-grants and technical assistance grants for studies to be done on the building, so we already have a lot of information to begin with,” Wilson said.
The building (circa 1915) encompasses 16,900 square feet – not including the basement area, and is structurally sound. Wilson noted that this doubles the amount of space that would have been available if the City had opted to follow through with constructing a new structure on the former Rice Theater site.
What ‘fixes’ lie ahead? Wilson said that Brownfields money may be available for replacement of the roof. Other areas to be addressed include: wiring, a sprinkling system, security, adding a new elevator and of course other cosmetic improvements.
“Certainly an elevator will be a necessity, and fixing the old existing elevator, which was largely used as a service elevator, would come at a high cost. However, one of the architects who consulted with us suggested using a damaged area and relocating a new elevator there. There was some damage in one area from the roof leaking and it goes from the 3rd down to the 2nd floor, so the hole it created is already there and could provide a more central location for a new elevator which would not be as costly as repairing an old one,” she explained.
She added that, surprisingly, every window in the building (with the exception of ONE which has a crack in it) is completely intact! “Many citizens were displeased with the red metal that was put up to cover the windows, but it offered great protection and left the windows unbroken,” she noted. “The foundation of the building is great and the floors are in great shape. There is some mold in the basement that has occurred in the past three years because of a crack in the sidewalk. However, we just received a grant to do the sidewalks in the downtown area so that should take care of that issue.”
What will happen to the current location of City Administrative offices if they are relocated to the Murphy building? Mrs. Wilson said there are several possibilities to explore.
“We could assess the condition of the Municipal Building where our police department is now headquartered. We could possibly move them into the current Kalaycioglu Building and perhaps tear down where the police department is now so that space would create more walkable parking places for our seniors to use, employee parking, incubator business parking, etc. OR the Kalaycioglu Building could once again become an ideal location for a doctor’s office or dentist’s office. There are lots of things for us to consider,” she remarked.
Mrs. Wilson said that consultants have given the City a rough estimate of $841,000 to fix up the building and get them in as occupants. This was, of course, a “rough” estimate and many details will have to be considered. Just this past December, though, a team of students from WVU prepared a business plan for the City, so City leaders have some groundwork lain in advance.
Mrs. Wilson concluded, saying emphatically, “We will be working on this right away, though. It is NOT our intent to just let this building sit there. We are excited about developing this city complex that will invest in the center of our downtown area. This structure is right in the heart of our community – along with our museum, our library, our fire department. There are many possibilities that we will be working on. We’ve been told that in a couple of years, this could all be completed. That’s why we will be working diligently to seek funding so that we can promptly begin to move forward on this project.”