They have a vision, and they believe it’s a dream that can come true.
Vince DeCrease is one of three partners of DC Ventures, LLC, a development company found a dozen years ago. He along with Charlie Savage and Joe John joined forces because of what they have seen succeed in other cities throughout the country. With those accomplishments in mind, DC Ventures has purchased a pair of buildings across the street from Market Plaza and is now in the renovation process.
“I’ve had a vision for more than a decade after following my children to the cities where they have gone to school and where they’ve lived after school, and I have seen a lot of things that I believe could happen in Wheeling,” said DeCrease, an employee of United Electric. “I’m an electrician by trade, and I have worked in most of these older buildings in the downtown. I’ve always seen the potential.
“When we heard Wheeling Jesuit was putting one of their programs in the Stone Center, we moved on looking and purchasing these properties,” he said. “My kids have lived in areas where it’s walking distance from small shops, movie theaters, eateries, and tap rooms, and I think that can be the future of downtown Wheeling. I wouldn’t be involved with this if I didn’t think that was possible.”
Several new businesses have opened within the downtown district in the past few years, including the Vagabond Kitchen, Mmm … Popcorn, Hughes Xerographic, DePasqualesTrattoria, and Another World. Residential loft apartments are currently under construction inside the Stone Center, and more housing development is expected in the downtown area in the next few years.
The former Industronics building is two floors, and the old Dinner Bell building has three levels. DeCrease, who is married to Kimberly Delbrugge DeCrease, explained he would like for businesses to open in the street-level areas, and he plans to renovate the top floor for apartments. The company is working with local architect Wendy Scatterday.
“I’m going to be selective as far as what kinds of businesses go into these storefront areas,” the developer said. “It’s not going to be a late-night, 3 a.m. bar. I want it to be quaint, and I’d love to see what has taken place around Centre Market. I think this whole block could be very similar, and Market Plaza is beautiful now. I’d love to see the city start having some kind of festivals at Market Plaza once the entire project is complete.
“This whole area could be something very special with residential and businesses. No one should expect it to take place overnight, but it will take place. Like I said, it already is with private investors and the city making significant investments right now.”
DeCrease, a 1977 graduate of Wheeling Park High School, is very confident in the reclamation movement that has taken hold in the Friendly City during the past 10 years, and he is impressed with the efforts being made by the city of Wheeling and organizations like the Regional Economic Development Partnership. But there are challenges, and the condition of many downtown buildings is only a portion of the story.
“I’m 56 years old, and I’m not going anywhere, so I know I’ll see downtown Wheeling come back to life,” DeCrease insisted. “It’s already happening, but I think we’re going to see more and more improvements over the next five years because of the hard work by the people at RED and with the city. And I can tell you this project would not be happening without the support of my wife. She’s always been the backbone of our family, and her support means everything to me.
“I do see the potential, but the biggest problem right now is some of the people who own downtown properties. Most of them won’t get up off their tail. They won’t sell, they won’t renovate, they won’t do anything, and that’s why I would like to see the city apply more pressure somehow so we can see more taking place.
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“Look at what we are doing here, and then look at the building in the middle of the two. The old Fiddlesticks building. It’s a piece of junk because the owner hasn’t done a thing with it. We have tried a few times to purchase that, but the owner wants three times what it’s worth, and we’re not going to pay that. We just don’t understand why he won’t budge on it because he’s doing absolutely nothing.”
DeCrease and his construction crew have initiated the process on the former Industronics structure, located at 1056 Market St., and once the demolition phase is complete, they will then begin doing the same inside the former Dinner Bell Building. The facades also will be refurbished.
Water damage is limiting what original parts can be salvaged, however, but when the interiors are ready to show prospective tenants, DeCrease believes they, too, will see the potential he and his partners envision.
“There were a couple of layers of drywall, and the old plaster just fell right off when we started working on the inside of the Industronics building,” DeCrease explained. “We needed to open this up completely so we could see what we’ll need to do structurally to make sure it’s as solid as it can be. And then we’ll build it out as a shell so potential tenants will be able to see what’s possible here.
“I know I would like to see a tap room, a bistro, or a little café,” he said. “But what I would really like to do is acquire all three buildings, but that’s up in the air. But if we can get all three structures, then we could generate a total of 4,000 square feet with all three.”
The DC Ventures partnership also believes a long-forgotten area of East Wheeling possesses much potential for townhome housing, DeCrease explained, and that is why the company began purchasing parcels along Warren Street near where the historic Reymann Brewing Co. once operated. Many Wheeling residents are now unfamiliar with this area because the city of Wheeling demolished the Manchester Bridge more than 20 years ago and has never replaced the span.
“We own a lot of the properties along Warren Street, and it is one of the largest parcels of property in Wheeling right now. It’s about eight acres, and I would like to take down a lot of those older buildings and warehouses so a developer can come in and construct what we need most, and that’s residential opportunities.
“I can see a number of townhouses in that area, and while we’ll likely never see the Manchester Bridge replaced like it was supposed to be, I would like to see the city develop a road that would extend past Ohio Valley Steel and the printing plant to Chapline Street. That would really offer a lot of access for people in the downtown area to the area near Wheeling Hospital.”
People are interested in the progress taking place within their Market Street properties, and DeCrease knows it because of the number of people who have stopped with curiosity.
“We have a lot of people asking us what we’re going to do with the buildings. People are very interested in what’s going on in the downtown right now,” DeCrease said. “I had this one old fellow come in one day, and he told me that his grandfather used to take him to the Dinner Bell.
“When some of the city administrators found out about what we want to do here, they were very supportive and still are,” he said. “No one else is going to do these kinds of projects. We have to do it ourselves, and we see a lot of people investing and doing it finally.”