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Downtown conference center on the market

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  Bob Simpson opened the Summit Conference Center because he believed in face-to-face meetings and thought Charleston needed a place designed specifically for business meetings.

After serving the city for 16 years, the center at 129 Summers St. is up for sale or lease, but will stay open through Dec. 21.

"It's simply a matter of economics regarding the continued operation of the conference center," Simpson said of the decision to put the building on the market.

Simpson said the long-term business outlook wasn't viable even without losing clients.

"We had our best year ever in 2010," Simpson said. "We came through the recession and things were looking great. And then we sort of experienced a steady slide in the volume of business."

Companies used to meet five or six times a year and now it's just once, Simpson said.

He attributes the decline in business to technology and companies reducing operating budgets.

"Companies have found other ways to communicate than meeting face-to-face," he said.

When outfitting the building to serve business clients Simpson said they made sure each meeting room had enough desks and space, technology such as videoconferencing and ergonomic chairs for comfort.

"We just did everything we could to make the learning environment ideal," Simpson said.

The two-story, 13,800-sqare-foot building is listed as Class A office space.

Simpson is asking for $1.8 million and is hopeful for a quick sale. Real Estate Resources is handling the sale.

"We think the building is very unique and in a prominent location," Simpson said. 

The decision to sell the center was an emotional one, Simpson said. His wife, Janet, works as the center's meeting planner and his son, Reid, works as the operations manager.

Six other employees work at the Summit. Simpson is hopeful a new owner would provide jobs for them, but he notified them of his plans a month ago.

"It seems like in West Virginia we don't get the big economic ups and downs like other people do and we thought we could weather it," Simpson said. "You hate to close a business if you can employ people and make a profit."

Despite the sale, he still believes in his idea for the center 16 years ago.

"I've become more convinced face-to-face meetings still have a role, but it's not the only option anymore." Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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