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West Side Main Street to buy Staats Hospital

Kenny Kemp
The Staats Hospital building was designed by one of West Virginia's first black architects.
Kenny Kemp Most of the arched ceiling in the former Knights of Pythias lodge hall had fallen when this photo was taken in January. Previous owners had filled the room waist-high with trash, as well.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The nonprofit group West Side Main Street announced Friday that it plans to acquire the former Staats Hospital -- a nearly century-old building the group has long said is important to redevelopment of the West Side.

The building, which sits at 121 Washington St. W., just across from Bigley Avenue, has fallen into disrepair. About a decade ago, the building's owner wanted to tear it down, and the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority agreed to the plan.

But West Side Main Street has been interested in acquiring the Staats Hospital building for years. In 2010, Pat McGill, the group's former director, told The Charleston Gazette that "it's a building that needs to be restored."

"I know . . . this was really something that meant a lot to her," current West Side Main Street head Stephanie Johnson said of McGill, who retired earlier this year.

Josie Counts, West Side Main Street's board president, said in a news release Friday evening, "The historic preservation of this building and the huge economic impact from the revitalization will be key elements to keeping the West Side momentum moving forward."

The group will work with Charleston developer Brooks McCabe. "He is very experienced and very knowledgeable and he will be a huge asset," Johnson said Friday evening.

West Side Main Street's development arm, the West Side Development Corporation, will work with McCabe, the Charleston City Council and other organizations, according to the release. The group said it's trying to get money from several sources, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the West Virginia Historic Preservation Office.

West Side Main Street is under the umbrella of the West Virginia State University Extension Service -- the only such arrangement in the country, according to WVSU.

Earlier this year, Preservation Alliance West Virginia put the Staats Hospital building on its annual Endangered Properties List.

"We would like to see the building return to its former glory, and contribute again to the economic vitality of the West Side," McGill said at the time. "Its absence would leave a gaping hole in our historic district."

Johnson acknowledged Friday that the building needs a lot of work. "It has negative value as it sits right now," she said.

It wasn't always that way. The Staats brothers, including one who was a doctor, built the hospital and opened it in 1922, Henry Battle, president of the Kanawha Valley Historical and Preservation Society, has said. The building was designed by John Norman, one of the first registered black architects in West Virginia.

Businesses on the first floor of the building included an A&P grocery store and Kelley's Department Store. The building also contained the entrance to the Grand Theater, the first theater on the West Side, according to Battle.

Eventually, Johnson said, West Side Main Street would move its offices into the first floor of the building. "As a Main Street program, we really want to be visible to the community," she said.

She said she'd also like to see a bakery and coffee shop on the first floor, something she said the West Side lacks.

The remaining three floors of the building would be leased out to businesses, Johnson said.

West Side Main Street hopes a final sale agreement with the building's current owner, Larry Kopelman, can be reached in the next few months, and the sale could be completed before the end of the year.

Earlier this year, Kopelman said the building "needs complete remodeling." He said he and other owners were "looking for anyone, either West Side Main Street as a conduit or a catalyst, or an independent third party."

Johnson said she hopes the deal works out, for more than one reason.

"I have heard so many stories about the residents on the West Side going to the hospital when they were children," she said. "It's for our organization, yes, but it's also about giving the residents back a piece of history that belongs to them."

Reach Greg Moore at gmoore@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1211.


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