CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) – While the Vandalia Heritage Foundation was first formed in 1998, the organization remains as passionate as ever in its attempts to revitalize buildings in the area.
Having this organization, which primarily focuses on northern West Virginia, gives individuals and communities interested in preserving their historic buildings and cultural heritage some recourse, said Laura Kuhns, president and chief executive officer.
“Vandalia was about taking a proactive approach to acquiring and preserving historic properties in northern West Virginia, some of which were mothballed for future redevelopment,” Kuhns said. “Others have taken years, and some are still in the works.”
Helping historic buildings and districts adapt to the modern age is important for many reasons, said Brooks McCabe, a commercial real estate developer who works closely with the Vandalia Heritage Foundation.
“The structure itself and sense of place is very important, not only to remember past times, but to really accentuate the importance of particular locations,” McCabe said. “If you go into a historic district or area, it’s a very strong sense of place. It’s very different than what I call Anywhere, USA, that all have the same signature buildings.”
There are several area projects that the Vandalia Heritage Foundation continues to work on, including the former Waldo Hotel in Clarksburg.
Vandalia has been studying the Waldo for its possibilities, and after several years and some controversy swirling around the building, it has hopes of finally taking steps to redevelop the structure as a hotel, although the cost is up in the air.
This year, the Vandalia Heritage Foundation was also able to make headway on the Palace Furniture building in downtown Clarksburg.
“After many years of trying to redevelop The Palace in Clarksburg and securing its eligibility for historic tax credits, we were able to identify a capable development partner in the Sadd Brothers of Charleston, and we were successful in obtaining low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) in West Virginia’s 2016 funding round,” Kuhns said. “This means that after being dormant for a long period, The Palace will now be completely renovated as affordable rental housing.”
Kuhns pointed out that the organization works with the site at each project differently.
“Each property is unique, as is each community wherein it is located,” Kuhns said. “Thomas and Grafton are very different, but have similarities, just as Clarksburg and Fairmont are.”
The biggest problem with properties is that they have to be sustainable, and the group has to find local partners who can utilize the space.
“There can only be so many historic ‘house museums,’ and these generally do not last,” Kuhns said.
McCabe added that another issue that Vandalia has to contend with is that health and safety codes have been updated drastically since the original construction of many of these buildings.
“You have to help them survive,” McCabe said. “You also have these difficult periods after the prime season for the building has passed and before it’s been revitalized for an adaptive use.”
However, may of the properties experience what Kuhns described as “cycles of renewal and, unfortunately, sometimes dormancy, based upon what the local markets can support and how conditions change.”
This cycle can be seen playing out in the organization’s work with the Palace Furniture building. Vandalia didn’t think it would have the money or effort needed to save the structure.
“Now it will occur and hopefully stimulate support for saving historic buildings in communities like Clarksburg,” Kuhns said.
While saving these buildings can be difficult, they are worth it, she said.
“It’s easy to tear it down, but what you lose is the historic fabric and heart and soul of the community that is in many ways, irreplaceable,” McCabe said. “And that’s what Vandalia has done for 20 years and more.”