Growth Attracts Development Firms to Wheeling

Recognizing the growth potential of the Wheeling housing market, two new companies have decided to expand their business in the Friendly City.

The owners of Real Property Solutions and 1st Management Group have set up shop at 821 Main St. because of the potential they see in the Wheeling area, according to representative Michael Bush, a 2006 graduate of Wheeling Park High School. Bush has partnered with Joe Sturm, a 1999 grad of Wheeling Park, Donnie Fisher from Charles Town, and Ohio County resident Heather Slack.

Real Property Solution is a brokerage firm that will be handling property purchases and sales, and 1st Management Group offers property management services for investors.

“Two of the four partners in these companies are from Wheeling, and that includes me, so we know how great a place this is to grow up, and we believe we can help Wheeling move forward. It’s been fun for me to see steel growing from the ground in the downtown thanks to the Health Plan project,” Bush said. “And we also see some economic activity going on in this area, so it’s our goal to be a part of that conversation.

“We have been fortunate with our companies in the Eastern Panhandle, and we see a lot of the same opportunities and challenges here in the Wheeling area. In  Martinsburg, we have the economic influence of Baltimore, and in the Northern Panhandle we have the economic influence of Pittsburgh and Columbus,” the 29-year-old said. “There is the economic activity involved with the gas and oil industries and the growth in the downtown, and in the Martinsburg area there’s the Proctor and Gamble project that has brought a lot of people to that area. So, there are a lot similarities.”

Bush continued his education at West Virginia Wesleyan and then earned his law degree from West Virginia University, so now that he is completely involved with the real estate industry, many of his friends and colleagues have asked why he’s made that decision.

Bush, Sturm, and Fisher have experienced success in the Martinsburg area of West Virginia.

“I do get that question a lot, and it’s because I practiced with commercial and residential real estate transactions with a regional firm before beginning this business, and I had established relationships with two of my partners early on in my career,” Bush explained. “We all entered the real estate business from different sides of the transaction table. I was used to doing the legal work, Donnie has experience in residential and commercial real estate, and Joe has worked in the banking industry for a number of years.

“I’ve always enjoyed the legal work very much, and the three of us got together and decided that we could offer people something different,” he continued. “What that involves is a full-service firm that will be able to offer people a lot of help whether it’s a small business, a first-time homebuyer, a large, commercial investor, or someone with a luxury home that needs niche marketing, we have the skill sets to work with anyone interested in coming to us.”

The city of Wheeling has experienced a housing crisis for more than a decade because not many home-purchase options exist for young professionals within its 15 square miles. While several of the municipality’s neighborhoods contain an abundance of Victorian-style structures, most of them include more than a couple of bedrooms, lots of square footage, and a need for electrical, plumbing, heating and cooling, and structural upgrades.

“We fully appreciate the fact that, nationwide, there is an inventory shortage, and people my age are not buying houses as quickly because there are not enough houses in that starter-home category,” Bush said. “We have had some very constructive conversations with construction professionals and developers to address unique financing strategies that would allow for interior renovations to some of homes that are available here in the Wheeling area.

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Ohio County resident Heather Slack has been in the real estate market in the Wheeling area for several years.

“The easy answer is, yeah, there is a problem, but that’s where we come in. We want to connect all of the right people to show our clients that there are opportunities here and that there are solutions, too,” he continued. “There is a lot to offer in this area, and we believe it’s worth digging in and getting to work.”

This region of the country was settled by pioneers during the mid-18th century, and the area played a vital role in the nation’s Industrial Revolution during the 1800s, and along the way hundreds of residential and commercial buildings were designed in the Victorian theme. Too many of those homes and businesses have been lost to time and demolition, but a copious number of them remain.

“We see a stock of great, historical buildings in both areas, and that’s why the addition of our partner Heather Slack is great because she will lead our Wheeling office with a lot of knowledge concerning historical tax credits, new-market tax credits, and the development of commercial buildings,” Bush explained. “When we have talked with our investors in the Eastern Panhandle they, too are excited about the Wheeling area and want to see what opportunities are here.

“So, this wasn’t just an opportunity to come back home, so to speak, but it’s also an opportunity to grow the businesses in a very similar market,” he said. “For those reasons, we are very excited to get started here.”

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott has expressed his hope that the members of the West Virginia Legislature approve an increase in the state’s historical tax credit awarded to those re-developing recognized historical buildings in the downtown district and across the city. At this time, similar rates in Ohio and Pennsylvania are 25 percent while the Mountain State offers just 10 percent, so that is why the mayor has met with the city’s state representatives in the House of Delegates and Senate.

Bush insisted that such an increase to West Virginia’s historical tax credit would accelerate economic development in Wheeling’s downtown.

“That proposed increase is critical because we are competing with regional players, and if we are not equal as far as the historical tax credit, then we’ll be passed over,” Bush stated. “We need to be competitive so our investors will see that it’s a dollar-for-dollar opportunity in an area with a lot of historical structures that can be renovated in an area with great schools and a better quality of life.

“But it does have to be competitive, and if it’s not, there are a lot of projects that could happen that won’t,” he said. “But if that tax credit rate is increased to the same level as it is in Pennsylvania and Ohio, then we believe a lot of things will begin happening right here in Wheeling.”

Bush initially was raised in the Woodsdale area of Wheeling, and then he and his parents moved to North Park. Since finishing law school, he has resided in the Eastern Panhandle and has witnessed the economic growth in that area thanks to its proximity to Baltimore and the nation’s capital and the difference in property tax rates in the Mountain State compared to Maryland and Virginia.

Bush believes the same to be true in the Wheeling area.

“We understand there are already local businesses working in the real estate industry, and our entry into this market is in no way designed to undercut the market,” Bush said. “We just see a lot of opportunities, and that’s why we are excited and ready for the challenges, and we’ll see where we are a year from now.

“We are a young company, but now with the addition of Heather to our operations we have over 30 years of experience in the brokerage and management business,” he said. “We have all taken a leap of faith because of this new energy in Wheeling, and we’re following a dream. But we are energized, ready to go, and we are hungry, and we’re going to offer the market something different. We’re very curious to see where it goes.”

(Photos provided by Michael Bush)