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Demolition Effort Continues in Bluefield, W.Va., While Another Project Wraps Up in Parkersburg

Wed February 28, 2024 - National Edition #6
Bluefield Daily Telegraph & Parkersburg News and Sentinel

Shutterstock photo

A steel claw biting into bricks and dropping them into the street below was the first step Feb. 26 for razing a block of downtown Bluefield, W. Va., buildings, part of the second phase of work to reshape the city's downtown.

Eventually, seven old structures standing within Bluefield's 400 block will be demolished with the goal of establishing new businesses and bringing in fresh ideas to the downtown.

Chase Fitzwater, a project manager for the demolition contractor Reclaim Co., based in Fairmont, W. Va., and his crew got excavators and other heavy machinery rolling on Scott Street, which had been closed off between Bland and Federal Streets in Bluefield, a small town located at the state's far southern end.

"As of right now we're continuing to unload our attachments for our equipment, fencing, and crane mats to help protect sidewalks and roadways," he told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph prior to the work. "Our guys are getting into position and shifting the machine up here for the JCPenney building, the tallest part, and start demolition after lunch. We'll start at the corner of Bland, work down Scott Street to Federal, and work our way down the block to the rest of the buildings."

The structures are planned to be razed from the top down, he added.

"We'll start at the top to bring everything down in a safe manner, and then that way we can really go to work inside the buildings' footprint," Fitzwater explained.

Bland and Federal Streets will stay open during most of the demolition work. When the contractors reach the nine-story building at the block's other end, Federal Street will be temporarily closed with traffic rerouted, but "that will be quite a few months away," he said.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the demolition contract calls for the work to be finished in 270 days.

"I don't know if it will take that long, but they want to do it slowly and safely to make sure there is no impact," said Jim Spencer, executive director of the Bluefield Economic Development Authority (BEDA), which owns the properties. "A brick could fall and bounce and come across the road, so safety is a big key on a project like this."

Downtown Bluefield Effort Years in the Making

Several years of preparation led to the beginning of the downtown project, he explained.

The demolition project started in October 2019 with a Brownfield Assessment grant that let the city assess several structures, including the building now occupied by Intuit, another that was home to the Bluestone Clinic, and the building which once stood in the Bluefield Avenue space now occupied by a Dollar General store.

In October 2020, the city deeded the properties over to BEDA.

A federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Cleanup Grant for the town's 400 Block was awarded one year later as part of the first phase of the project, along with matching funds provided by the Hugh I. Shott Foundation, a private philanthropic foundation in West Virginia.

In addition, Phase 1 of the overall project saw asbestos abatement completed last fall, according to the Bluefield newspaper.

The city is still considering ways to use the 400 block's space after the buildings are gone and is open to ideas from area folks.

"This is the best day I've had as mayor in Bluefield," Mayor Ron Martin said as the bricks fell. "It's been a long process. It's truly a testimonial to the team effort of Bluefield. I don't think there's a person in the city's administration who hasn't had a hand in this."

Parkersburg Structure Razed Following Alley Closure

Almost three hours to the north in Parkersburg, W. Va., along the banks of the Ohio River, demolition also got under way Feb. 26 on a downtown building whose dilapidated condition led to the closure of an adjacent alley nearly two years ago.

Crews with J.C. Bosley Construction in Parkersburg started the process of razing the building at 318 Fifth St. after the city's Urban Renewal Authority (URA) acquired the property via eminent domain and blocked off Phillips Court Alley due to concern over bricks falling from the structure.

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel noted that Ryan Barber, the city's director of development, cited a March 2022 memo from City Engineer Adam Stout that described the building's foundational issues as well as deterioration of the bricks linked to improperly connected downspouts. The memo also noted the exterior of the building had three layers of bricks, all of which were compromised.

City officials worked with the building's owner over an approximately 18-month period to address exterior code violations, Barber said, but the property was ultimately presented to the URA for acquisition by eminent domain.

The process was finally completed last October, Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce told the News and Sentinel.

The city paid a fair market value price of $50,000 for the building, with demolition, including asbestos abatement, to cost another $146,000, noted Eric Jiles, the city finance director.

While watching the 318 Fifth St. building being razed Feb. 26, Mike Williams, president, and owner of iTech, which bought and renovated the nearby former Parkersburg Office Supply Co. building at Fifth and Avery streets six years ago, said it would have been nice if someone could have rehabilitated the 318 Fifth St. structure rather than tearing it down.

"You hate to see any building come down," Williams told the Parkersburg news source. "Sometimes, buildings get to the point where they're not repairable."

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