Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

We are very excited about the story below, which appeared in today's Daily Mail. The Charleston Urban Renewal Authority sold the Capitol Street building earlier this year in hopes it would be renovating. With the help of Bailey & Glasser and PrayWorks, that's happening.

Capitol Street building experiencing rebirth

by George Hohmann
Daily Mail Business Editor

Passersby haven't had much to see at 209 Capitol St. these last few weeks. The front windows have been papered over and although there's been some noise, it's mostly come from inside the cavernous structure.

That's changing this week.

Workers have cut holes in the brick for windows on the side of the building that faces Spyro's parking lot, replaced missing masonry and sealed the areas where the building formerly shared floor beams with a long-gone structure. Within the week, they'll paint that side of the building.

They're also working on the front of the building. Although the front won't change much in appearance, there will be a big difference when workers take the paper off the windows and the empty inside of the building can be seen.

A firm led by members of the law firm of Bailey & Glasser purchased the 115-year-old building earlier this year for $525,000 from the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority. They are investing $2 million to turn the structure into modern office space.

Dave Pray of PrayWorks, Charleston, who is managing the renovation, pointed out some of the building's history that has been revealed since the structure was emptied of 100 tons of debris.
The area above a heavy metal door on the second floor is scorched -- a telltale reminder of the deadly fire that occurred next door on March 4, 1949. That's when the Woolworth Five and Dime, housed in an identical building, burned. That fire killed seven firefighters in the most deadly blaze the city Fire Department has ever seen.

Less dramatic history is visible on the first floor, where workers have uncovered several "K" monograms - reminders that S.S. Kresge's, the predecessor to Kmart, once occupied the building.

Pray and Ben Bailey, partner in the law firm, believe the building was originally the equivalent of a shopping center because, after it opened in 1892 or 1893, it contained several tenants.

"It's where the Diamond Shoe and Garment Co. first started business -- before it moved up the street," Pray said.

Diamond Shoe and Garment eventually became the Diamond Department Store, a Charleston retail landmark that endured until the early 1980s.

The building at 209 Capitol St. became a S.S. Kresge's around 1927 or 1928, Pray said. In the 1980s it became a Rite Aid. Later it was a McCrory's and then a Dollar General. Pray pointed out that the masonry bearing, wood floor structure had been vacant for five years before the principals in Bailey and Glasser bought it.

Pray and Bailey agree that federal and state historic tax credits have made the project possible.

"I sincerely believe that if it were not for this tax incentive program, 209 Capitol St. would be a surface parking lot," Pray said.

"We would not have bought this building without the tax credits," Bailey said.
Here's how the tax credits work:

* You have to have an historic structure. The building at 209 Capitol St. is a "certified historic structure" because it is a "contributing building in a National Register historic district."
* As you plan renovations, you must work with the State Historic Preservation Office to preserve that which is historic. In the case of 209 Capitol St., that involved a team that included Pray and the project architects, GBBN of Cincinnati and John Harris of Bastian & Harris Architects, Charleston.

* Qualifying projects receive 30 percent of certified rehabilitation expenses in tax credits, with 20 percent coming from the federal government and 10 percent coming from the state. The credits can be taken by the entity that owns the building or sold.

"Basically it means that roughly 30 cents of every dollar we spend after the purchase of this building, we get back," Bailey said. "On this building, that made the difference. Without those credits, it didn't make sense financially. With them, it was a no-brainer."

Pray and Bailey believe this is the first major renovation project to be undertaken since the downtown area was designated an historic district. Some observers apparently thought too much red tape was required to make the tax credits worthwhile. Pray and Bailey disagree.

"I think this project will prove the wisdom of making this area an historic district," Bailey said. "The historic preservation program saved this building."

On a recent tour, Pray showed how the building's various occupants reconfigured the interior time and again over the years. Stairwells were cut into floors, only to be removed later. As a result, numerous floor beams have been replaced to ensure the building's structural integrity. A few of the massive 12x12 wood posts holding up the structure also have been reinforced with steel plates out of an abundance of caution. Pray credits Jud Ham Jr. of Ham Engineering, South Charleston, for the structural engineering work.

Some of the flooring has been replaced, and all of the floors will receive a coat of liquid gypsum so they'll be smooth and level.

Care has been taken to demolish the interior in an environmentally friendly way. Construction workers recycled about $8,000 worth of scrap metal from the debris, Pray said. Also, clean debris like bricks were separated so they wouldn't be landfilled.

Although the renovation work has revealed some of the building's secrets, much remains unknown.

"Several people have told me there was a mezzanine in Kresge's," Pray said. "I'd love to know more. Anybody with knowledge, I hope they'll raise their hand." The basement contains what amounts to a vault - a room sealed off by a massive metal door. It's another mystery. Pray can be reached at 720-0880.

"I love the building," said Bailey, who is enthused about the opportunities the structure offers his law firm. The front of the first floor will have 12-foot ceilings covered in pressed tin, similar to the ceiling that was in Kresge's. Workers have installed two exhibits - a swath of tin much like the original and another swath with tin that, upon close inspection, contains thousands of tiny holes. "That's to improve the acoustics," Bailey explained.

There will be a spacious lobby, a big conference room and a new elevator.

But it's the new windows on the side of the building that will make the most difference, Bailey said. "The introduction of all of that light is what makes this building come to life."

Project contractor is Pray Construction Co. of Scott Depot. Dave Pray is writing a blog about the renovation. It can be found online at

Asked how long a useful life the building will have when renovations are complete, Pray thought a moment. The threat of fire in downtowns is diminished compared to what it was in the past, he noted. If the building can avoid stress like an earthquake, "it should be useful for a few more generations," he said.

The law firm expects to move in by October. It will occupy the basement, first and second floors. The third floor is for rent. Each floor contains about 9,000 square feet.

Bailey & Glasser has occupied the nearby Scott Drug Building, at 227 Capitol St., for almost a decade. The firm is moving because it has outgrown that space. The Scott Drug Building will be for sale.


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