(Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a series detailing the redevelopment of three vacant properties on Market Street in downtown Wheeling.)
They got the building in the middle. All of a sudden “reasonable” came into play.
The partners of D.C. Ventures, a Wheeling-based development company that is currently renovating three buildings situated along upper Market Street across from Market Plaza, recently purchased the former Fiddlestix property and will add the structure into their plans to re-use buildings that have stood in downtown Wheeling for nearly a century.
Attorney Joe John and Savage Construction owner Charlie Savage joined Vince DeCrease to form D.C. Ventures, LLC, more than a decade ago, and DeCrease believes by mid-October Tito’s Sloppy Doggs will open in the street-level space that most recently housed the Dinner Bell Restaurant at 1068 Market St.
“I think it says a lot about what’s happening in the city of Wheeling right now,” said Wheeling architect Wendy Scatterday. “We have business owners who have taken the leap to purchase property, to take a risk, and to be willing to do so for the good of the downtown district. And they are doing with using a lot of sweat equity.
“It’s not only an investment of money, but also of their time because of how much of the work they do themselves,” she continued. “That kind of commitment to redeveloping Wheeling is a model to be followed. That’s why I believe everyone in the city of Wheeling should thank the investors and doers like the people who own D.C. Ventures because of their willingness to suspend their return on their investment. They are committed with a different end goal from what you usually see.
“They are going to make money, sure, but it is a different formula from what an outside developer would be looking at. Those are the kinds of folks who are cutting the teeth on the redevelopment of the downtown district. That’s how Wheeling is going to come back in full force.”
DeCrease possesses the same mindset; he sees development taking place throughout the downtown district and he also is convinced others are scouting locations along Main and Market streets.
“I can see it; I really can, and honestly, I see it happening now,” DeCrease said. “There have been new businesses that have opened in downtown Wheeling during the past year, and I also see a lot of people around the downtown taking a lot of pictures of the buildings around here.
“And based on the feedback that we are getting here, I believe it’s going to be overwhelming here in the next couple of years,” he continued. “The atmosphere in the downtown is not going to change overnight. That’s not the way it takes place, and anyone who thinks it does is being unreasonable. It’s a process, but that process is under way.”
The three partners involved with D.C. Ventures, DeCrease insisted, represent the reasons why this re-development is possible.
“Charlie and I have been in construction all of our lives, and we know what it costs to build a building or to renovate three of them,” DeCrease said. “If we had to hire everyone to come do what needs done here, we probably wouldn’t be doing what we are doing here.
“Our third partner, Joe John, works, of course, with the legal matters involved, like the leases, all the paperwork, the tax credit research, and the property purchases,” he said. “We have a really good group, and that’s how we do this and do it affordably.”
D.C. Ventures purchased the structures resting at 1062 and 1068 Market Street, but the owner of the middle property – 1066 – refused to budge for months on his asking price for the property.
Until recently, that is.
“It took a lot of effort and a lot of help from the city of Wheeling,” DeCrease said. “Finally the former owner realized he wasn’t going to do anything with it and that we wanted to, so he negotiated to the point to where it was feasible for us to make the purchase.
“He came around, finally, and that’s great news for us and our vision. We were going to move forward no matter what happened with this building, but we are very happy to have it now,” he said. “But it was an absolute mess. Structurally, it’s not. In that way it’s in very good condition, but we when walked in, we realized that about 10 years of hoarding stuff had taken place.”
Nothing of any monetary or sentimental value has been discovered inside the former Fiddlestix, but the work crews continued clearing it of the leftover debris this week.
“We haven’t found anything that strange inside the building,” DeCrease said. “But there was a lot of junk in here. Ten years of accumulation, at least, was scattered all over the place.
“We are still working on cleaning out the basement, but the three floors from the street level have been cleared, and the next part is stripping it all down to her bones,” he continued. “That’s how we’ve had to go about it inside the other two buildings, and that’s what we have to do here, too.”
The cost to acquire 1066 Market St., DeCrease said, remained a little pricey but was reduced.
“Of the three buildings that D.C. Ventures has purchased along upper Market, the Fiddlestix property was the most costly,” DeCrease said. “But for us it fit into our plans and it’s allowed that original vision to come back into sight.
“Right now our time frame is pressing us a little, but the good thing is that we now have two tenants under contract, and they are ready to go when the buildings are ready,” he continued. “The work is going to take place very quickly to get the new Vagabond Kitchen ready.”
While renovating the interiors is time-consuming, it is the mystery of the front facades that has Scatterday intrigued with potential.
“The façades, are a challenge because of everything the former owners of the buildings did with them through the years,” Scatterday said. “The Industronics building has a framework that is covering the front and that framework will be taken down to expose what’s underneath.
“Potentially, we may have to restore and replace the original façade, and we’ll use photos that we have found to be able to do that work,” she continued. “When you are inside the building you can tell that most of it is still there just waiting to be uncovered, including the windows and the sashes.”
But with restoration and preservation work come state and federal tax credits, the architect explained.
“There are some historic tax credits that the owner can take advantage off when it comes to the restoration work on the facades,” Scatterday reported. “What I’m doing is working with the owner so they are able to make the best choices as this project moves forward.
“The intent is to put these buildings back to what they once were when originally constructed,” she said. “The owners wish to maintain that look on the exteriors of the buildings because of the vision that we have of the future of downtown Wheeling. It also has everything to do with curb appeal. That kind of design is friendly, and it’s inviting, and those are places that people like to visit.”
The Puzzles of Re-Development
Several buildings in Wheeling’s downtown district have been demolished in the past 10 years, and one of the reasons for those razings have been the cost of re-developing older structures because of state and federal building and safety codes.
The same is true with these three buildings on upper Market Street.
“The general construction and the framing is complete, and our workers are installing the two-hour-rated ceiling right now,” DeCrease explained. “That will be finished by the end of the week. All of the inspections have been performed involving mechanical, electrical, and the plumbing.
“Hopefully by this weekend we will have all of the drywall hung and be close to being ready for paint,” he continued. “One wall will feature exposed brick, and that wall is ready to go. It’s been cleaned, and it’s sealed and coated. It’s ready to go.
“As far as Tito’s, we are looking at the middle of October for their opening, and we’re looking forward to a lot more people returning to this area of our downtown,” DeCrease said. “Another World opened a few months ago, and that’s brought some folks back to this area, but we believe adding Tito’s in October will be very popular.”
The interior design for Tito’s was complete in August, and a few minor changes have been made since.
“What we have talked about is how to make a flexible space that allows the seating capacity change if it needs to change in the future,” said Scatterday. “It can modified over time if Tito’s wishes to do that in the future. We’ve left it open for them so they can gauge the flow once the business opens next month.
Scatterday also considered customer service when mapping out the inside of Tito’s, and that was the result of a request from the future tenant.
“Christopher Burress has talked about wishing to have a really tight interface with their customers and to be able to provide the kind of friendly customer service that is important to them,” Scatterday reported. “They feel that it lets them have relationships with those customers as they have that walk-up-counter experience.
“It’s going to be very diner-like because they want to be very hands-on,” she said. “So we have adapted this space so they can continue to offer the kind of service that they feature at their two locations now.”
One regulation concerned fire suppression and alarm systems, but Scatterday said interaction with city officials allowed the process to go smoothly and to exceed the mandated requirements.
“We needed to two-hour-rated separation between the bottom floors and the upper floors,” Scatterday explained. “In these three buildings there will be a total of five apartments above, and there will be one apartment for every floor there is in the three buildings.
“The fire department and the local code officials have been working with us, and it really is a negotiations process. How the spaces will be used is what all factors together, and since all three properties are owned by one owner, we have been able to link the fire alarm for all three buildings together.
Tenant No. 2 – The Vagabond Kitchen
Matt Welsch and his Vagabond Kitchen are moving to the 1062-1066 Market St. locale, but he is still serving his crafted meals at his current location in the McLure Hotel on the corner of 12th and Market streets.
“Our attitude about moving to the new location is, ‘the sooner the better,’” Welsch said. “If we can be open by the end of the year, that would be amazing, but I also realize that these kinds of projects take time.
“My biggest concern moving forward is that people need to come eat now,” he continued. “Don’t wait until the move because we need to survive until the move.
“So many people are telling me that they can’t wait to come see me in my new place, but the food is still great, so they should not wait until we move. If they come see us now in the hotel, that will allow them to appreciate the new place even more.”
Welsch is confident the new space will allow him to continue his mission of offering the Wheeling area menu items that will appease the palate, and he is hopeful those offerings will attract folks to the Friendly City from outside the area.
“It’s hard not to think about how much potential there is with the space, and Ryan (Butler) and I have been walking around just talking about all of the ideas that we have for it,” Welsch said. “One of the biggest differences between this space and where we are now in the McLure Hotel is the size of the kitchen, but to be honest, the kitchen in the hotel is really too big for what we do.
“In the new location we’ll have a kitchen about a third of that size, and that’s going to be perfect. Plus, we’re not planning to have a huge menu when we open up the new place,” he explained. “We’ll have between 60 to 80 seats, a bar, and a very nice, crafted menu. It’s going to be terrific.”
Butler, in fact, is Welsch’s sous chef today but he was set to leave his hometown for the West Coast because he found himself frustrated by working in truck stops, fast- food joints, and chain restaurants.
“It is great to part of this cutting-edge upswing that we see happening here in Wheeling,” Butler said. “But it was Matt who kept me here in the Valley. I was about a month away from leaving here to head out West.
“I was already doing research and making contacts out West in preparation to leave here. I didn’t want to leave, but after working at fast-food and chain places, I knew I would have my hands on food for the rest of life,” he continued. “But I couldn’t be happier with where I am working now. This is what I wanted when I was 12 and cooking with my grandma in her kitchen.”
The décor of the new Vagabond Kitchen has yet to be determined, but DeCrease said walls will come down, exposed brick will be cleaned and sealed, and the food will remain as excellent as it’s been since Welsch opened in June 1014.
“There’s going to be open walls and exposed brick on the Vagabond side and that’s going to make for a very attractive atmosphere for their new location,” he said. “I very much believe in Matt and what he is trying to do with the Vagabond Kitchen, and I’ve liked everything I’ve ever had at his restaurant. I think my favorite to this point has to be his brisket.”
“We haven’t set a concrete schedule for when the space will be ready for the Vagabond Kitchen because we just recently purchased the middle building. That purchase has put us back into the design phase,” DeCrease said. “Once we get a real good idea what Matt wants with the layout of the restaurant, we’ll know what we have to do to building it out.
“We are hoping by the first of the year,” he added. “We all have memories of this stretch of Market Street whether we were eating at the Dinner Bell or going to Kidding’s or Becker’s Hardware or the Men’s Shop, and we are looking forward to seeing people along this stretch of the street again.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)