Century-Old Building Sparks New Development

Filed in Awards, Design, Multifamily by on April 11, 2018 0 Comments

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The warehouse building that became Boury Lofts in Wheeling, W. Va. was a mystery. Over the years, it was home to a biscuit factory, a coffee roaster, a wool and ginseng exporter, a cold-storage facility and many other businesses – but no one knew how old it actually was.

The local historical society found a record of the owners having insured it as a shoe factory in 1890 – but now it was a mess. A former ground floor restaurant had been for closed for 40 years and the other five stories were full of abandoned equipment. The basement showed the high-water marks of multiple flooding from a nearby creek.

But the area’s Regional Economic Development Partnership had hopes of bringing it back to life and approached the Woda Group – now the Woda Cooper Companies – with a request that the company buy the building and turn it into multifamily housing.

While it was in bad shape, the company decided to accept the challenge, in part because “all the other buildings we looked at were in even worse shape,” said Joe DiCesare, the company’s project executive.

On the plus side, the site was close to both West Virginia Northern Community College and Wheeling Hospital, and there was no other multifamily housing anywhere nearby.

The developers tapped local historic architects at Mills Group to redesign the interiors, incorporating original timber and brick, and using the huge original window frames to maximize natural light.

Part of the ground floor was actually underground: Rail cars used to enter the building four feet below ground level. The ground-floor fitness center highlights that industrial past by using metal grates as a portion of the flooring, allowing users to see the tracks below. Additionally, the sidewalk outside the fitness area shows the path of the old rail tracks.

There were other challenges as well – floors three, four and five were not level, and ceiling heights varied: The ground floor had 18-foot ceilings, the next two floors had 14-foot ceilings and the top floor had 8-foot ceilings.

The water tower on the roof was slated for restoration until the construction superintendent told DiCesare that the structure was severely compromised, describing the tower as “rust holding hands.” After it was taken down, a local metalworker took photos and measurements, and recreated the tower as a signature feature.

The final product is a 72-unit building that received federal and state historic as well as New Market tax credits. Within 30 days of opening, all of the units were leased.

The project was the Adaptive Reuse winner in the 2017 NAHB Pillars of the Industry Awards. Its success spurred other developers to step up, including a firm with plans to turn the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel headquarters into market-rate multifamily. The developer of that future $20 million project cited the success of Boury Lofts as a big factor in its decision to build in Wheeling.

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