The top three floors of the Stone Center in downtown Wheeling will soon be occupied by residents of the 22 loft apartments now being constructed by the Woda Group.
The $2.1 million project, announced in March, is expected to be completed by the beginning of October. The sixth, seventh, and eighth floors will house both one- and two-floor apartments that will average 1,000 square feet, according to Craig O’Leary, program director for the Regional Economic Development Partnership.
“I know that the folks at WODA expect to have this completed by Oct. 1,” said Craig O’Leary, program director for the Regional Economic Development Partnership. “This decision was based on a discussion about what downtown Wheeling needs at this time. Having people living in the downtown area is the next phase in the redevelopment of the downtown district.
“This project is very similar to projects that Woda has completed in other areas, and they were looking to do something like this in Wheeling,” he said. “There were a lot of buildings that could work, so we started those conversations with them for the Stone Center.”
The sixth floor will have the one-floor apartments, and the seventh and eight floors will be consolidate for the two-floor models. Residents will access their housing units from the Market Street entrance. The Woda Group, headquartered in Westerville, Ohio, is a nationally recognized developer, general contractor, and property manager. The company manages senior living properties in North Wheeling and has developed more than 9.000 housing units in 13 states since 1990.
Once the apartments are completed, the Stone Center will possess two open floors, but O’Leary explained that more residential living is not the objective at this time.
“I do not think that we will do more residential areas in the building in the future,” O’Leary said. “The three floors – six, seven, and eight – where the loft apartments are being built were two of the smaller floors in the building, and the eighth floor wasn’t really useable for a lot of things.
“Our goal for the remaining two floors is office space, and we are very selective with what we put here. We would like to attract more large users for the building,” O’Leary said. “Our mission is job creation and creating wealth in the counties that we serve so this project makes sense for us. This organization has had a few different names since it was created, but the history goes back to the 1920s.”
Soon after the apartment complex was announced by the Woda Group, a new restaurant/nightclub (Another World) opened across Market Street. Vince DeCrease, one of three partners with D.C. Ventures, also announced a redevelopment project along Market Street that involves two vacant buildings.
“This project has focused some additional attention on the Stone Center,” O’Leary said. “Williams Lea has close to 500 employees in this building now; Wheeling Jesuit’s physical therapy program brings more than 100 people here every day; those developments started the foot traffic, and people started to take notice.
“That’s why we believed that having people living here was the next phase to go into,” he said. “The city of Wheeling has been a partner with all of the projects inside the Stone Center, and the Market Plaza development is a huge amenity.”
Employees of James White Construction of Weirton are nearly finished with the renovation of Market Plaza’s north end, and the southern side has been open since the spring. The barrier was removed on the south end, and new metered parking spaces were added. Additional parking will be included on the north end, and workers installed several pedestrian benches as well.
The $634,000 project is funded by the city’s tax incremental financing project.
“We have talked about what comes first, the chicken or the eggs, or is it the people before the amenities? That’s a question people have been asking for a long time,” explained Joelle Connors, business development specialist for RED. “On one side of that conversation is the opinion that we can’t have more restaurants before we have more people.
“But then there’s the other side of it because some believe you can’t have more people before you have more amenities. So what’s happening now is that it is taking place simultaneously. We’re seeing both take place,” she continued. “There was the announcement of this project, and then all of a sudden you hear about new businesses opening within blocks from here.”
The private sector involvement is a most positive sign, said Connors.
“Now the private sector is coming along and is willing to take some risks in the downtown. There are now more people who believe that now is the time to invest in downtown Wheeling,” she confirmed. “The downtown is busier now than it has been for many years, and by that I mean more development, more people working every day, and more inquiries about the downtown. If you look at the Stone Center, there are more people working inside this building now than ever before.
“It’s one step at a time,” she said. “You can’t just bulldoze an entire downtown and build everything new. That’s not how it works. It’s a piece at a time.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)