A demolition crew recently tore down a large blighted structure at a major intersection in downtown Fairmont, WV. The building, a former tire center that loomed menacingly over the intersection of Cleveland Ave, Jackson Street, and Locust Ave since the tire business’s closure in the early 1980s, was one of 53 properties on the City’s blighted gateway property list and was also one of over 300 blighted properties in the volunteer-led BAD (Brownfield, Abandoned, Dilapidated) Building Group’s inventory.
Because of its high visibility and lingering vacancy, both city officials and several concerned residents placed a high priority on the property as a candidate for immediate action. About a year ago, code enforcement officials issued a 30-day raze or repair notice on the property. In early 2015, Fairmont’s City Manager, Attorney, and Planner approached Cliff Jackson, the property owner, to determine a solution. After several back and forth discussions, the City Manager at the time gave him two options: find a developer to turn the former tire center into productive reuse or take the building down.
Lacking the money to tackle the building demolition in a timely fashion himself, the City eventually agreed to provide Jackson a low-interest loan with a two-year grace period so he would be able to demolish the building.
Jackson, who works in the IT department at Fairmont State University and manages a specialty contracting company and a commercial rental business, initially had a different vision for the space when he purchased the property roughly two years ago at a state tax sale. Because tax sale purchases restrict potential buyers from entering a building, he was only able to gauge the quality of the building from the exterior. The now-demolished building seemed like it had potential: with a solid stone masonry structure and prime downtown location, he envisioned converting it into a two-story brew pub modeled after Columbus Brewing Company in Ohio, or alternatively, a climbing gym. Unfortunately the crumbling wood and roof components made the project too costly to consider.
Now that the building is demolished and Jackson is left with a vacant lot, he is in the process of marketing the site to potential developers. So far he has shown the property to a handful of commercial brokers and has also approached neighboring property owners to see if they are interested in expanding into his site. He will soon put up a sign marketing the property with a lot plan indicating the four separate parcels that comprise the site. It is a prime location in downtown Fairmont, so Jackson, the City, and the residents will be eager to see new development on the site that contributes to the vibrancy of the downtown.
When asked about his vision for Fairmont as a whole, Jackson, who also volunteered with members of the BAD Buildings Group to inventory properties, describes a need for market-rate housing in the downtown area, including mixed-use sites that diversify the city’s housing stock. He also sees a need for more quality eating establishments in the downtown.
This vision, along with the more pressing need of removing abandoned, unsafe, and economy-depleting structures, is shared with the BAD Buildings Group, whose volunteer members have been working since 2014 to inventory all blighted buildings in the 9 square miles of the city. They are currently going through the process of targeting one specific neighborhood as a pilot to prioritize buildings for demolition, deconstruction, repairs, or reuse.
It is clear from this one example that collaboration between the city and property owner and the efforts of the volunteer group will contribute to change in the community.