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Developer to reinvent former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building

WHEELING — City leaders hope to move forward with plans for a new downtown parking garage, opening the door for a private developer to convert the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel building into a new apartment complex.

Developer Steve Coon and city leaders are expected to meet this afternoon to publicly reveal details about the Wheeling-Pitt building plans. Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott this week noted that the proposed restoration has been in the works for a couple years, was somewhat delayed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is now ready to move forward.

Built from 1904-1907 as the Schmulbach Building, the highrise at 1134 Market St. in the heart of downtown that became known as the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Building was once the tallest building in the state of West Virginia. The 12-story structure served for many years as an office headquarters for Wheeling Steel and subsequently Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel before the demise of the local steel industry. It has remained vacant since 2013.

Coon is head of Coon Restoration & Sealants Inc. based near Canton, Ohio. As a developer, he and his company are well known for a number of successful historic rehabilitation projects in Ohio and across the country. For the Wheeling-Pitt building restoration, plans moved closer to fruition in 2018 when the West Virginia tax credit for restoration and historic preservation jumped from 10 percent to 25 percent.

The last remaining hurdle for the project has been the availability of sufficient parking. This week, the mayor noted that there are plans to move ahead with a proposed parking garage that is in close proximity to the Wheeling-Pitt building.

“Although it’s a critical piece of the puzzle, the parking garage will not just be for this development,” Elliott said. “It will be for downtown growth.”

Previous plans to place a parking garage in other locations near the Wheeling-Pitt building — including on property across Market Street — were never found to be viable and never moved forward. The city is now poised to construct a new parking garage to the north of the Wheeling-Pitt building on the site of the former Chase Bank building near the intersection of Market and 11th streets.

“People may walk a couple of blocks from where they park to go to work, but not to where they live,” Elliott said, noting that in order to facilitate the high rise redevelopment, there has to be available parking close to the residential units. The Chase Bank building, which has sat vacant for six years, is located just two doors north of the Wheeling-Pitt building.

The cost of building a parking garage with space to fit 300 cars is estimated to cost $7-to-$8 million or more, and the city would have to issue bonds to finance it. Elliott noted, however, that the parking garage will generate revenue to help pay for its debt, and it will be a critical part to a major investment in the downtown area’s tax base.

The redevelopment of the high rise alone is estimated to be a $30 million project, Elliott said. In comparison, the Health Plan building and Boury Lofts rehabilitation project were downtown investments in the range of $14 million and $16 million, the mayor explained.

The Wheeling-Pitt building is owned by Dr. John Johnson’s Access Infrastructure LLC. Coon’s plan is to develop 110 apartment units in the building, while creating retail units on the building’s street-level floor. Elliott said Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel had installed the marble facades on the outside of the building facing Market Street, but originally, the first floor had open “storefront” facades which Coon plans to bring back.

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