BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Possibly the sole comfort in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed two buildings in the city's historic district Jan. 2 is that an even worse downtown blaze was narrowly averted.
"Our fire department did a tremendous job given the circumstance they had to work with that night," said Mayor Emmett Pugh.
While fighting the fire, which engulfed two buildings at the corner of Neville and Heber streets, the department also poured water on the new Raleigh County Judicial Center federal annex right across the street, and then tried to keep the fire from consuming other businesses down Neville Street.
They succeeded in containing the blaze, but the city-owned structure at the corner known as the Rose and Turner building was gutted, while an adjacent commercial building housing a half-dozen businesses and offices was reduced to smoking rubble.
"We're still trying to evaluate the loss of those buildings," said Pugh. "Anytime you have any kind of fire downtown that takes out business that's not a good thing for downtown."
The city's building, unused at the time, will not be rebuilt, and late last week workers were preparing the remaining shell for demolition, said Pugh. "We have no intention to build our building back."
The second building, owned by Beckley attorney John Mize, had housed his and Mingo Winter's law firms, as well as several tenants and retail outlets including the long-time businesses Trio Consignment and Kopy Xpress. All were a complete loss.
While nothing has been decided, one possibility would be putting in a green space on the site of the city building once it is demolished, said Pugh.
"It'd be a park-type setting, maybe erecting a statue of Senator Robert Byrd in that area -- he was basically a hometown person, born and raised in Sophia and he owned some property in Beckley."
For his part, Mize said he planned to rebuild on the adjacent site on Heber Street, since it is prime downtown real estate, located a stone's throw from city and federal offices.
"I bought that building based on location as much as anything else. It's perfect for a lawyer. I would love to rebuild there."
Any new building will not be as large as the one that burned, he said. Yet, it should have room for some retail businesses, although the consignment and copy shop owners have indicated they would likely not remain, Mize said.
"I don't think they're interested in rebuilding because they've taken a pretty big loss. I would like to have some space available for tenants. It won't be as much as I had because of the cost. But my building had several tenants paying B&O taxes and property taxes and that's a great loss for the city, so I'd like to see some revenue come in for the city."
Mize said he also liked the idea of adapting to any green space the city might grow up.