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Developer homes in on plan for Staats building

By Rachel Molenda, Staff writer
CHRIS DORST | Gazette photos
Tighe Bullock, of Crawford Holdings, stands inside a portion of the Staats Building storefront on West Washington Street in Charleston. Bullock recently purchased the property for redevelopment.
Pressed-tin ceilings are hidden from view by drop ceilings. Developer Tighe Bullock hopes to salvage and expose much of the Staats Hospital building’s original ceilings.
The Staats building on West Washington Street was purchased recently by Bullock, and renovation of the building’s interior has begun.
The open space of the fourth floor of the Staats building has a high ceiling and views of Charleston on nearly all sides. The Knights of Pythias used to have meetings in this room many decades ago, according to Bullock.
Part of the mezzanine level of the Staats Hospital building still has tin ceilings. Developers with Crawford Holdings haven’t yet decided if they will leave the mezzanine or remove it to make the building’s first-floor ceilings higher.
Old medical supplies litter a middle-floor corridor of what used to be a clinic inside the Staats Hospital building.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Remnants of days past are still inside the Staats Hospital building. Medical supplies litter its paint-peeled halls. Hospital gowns are crumpled in corners. A plaque directing patients to register sits in a windowsill on its fourth floor.

A hulk of a building, Staats’ prominent emptiness on the Washington Street West corridor has been in the sights of many over the years, including Tighe Bullock, who recently purchased the building with the help of private and public funds.

Bullock and his company, Crawford Holdings LLC, secured loans from the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority ($230,000), the Charleston Area Alliance ($15,000) and First Bank of Charleston ($155,000, guaranteed by the Alliance). West Side Main Street also gave $40,000 in facade grants to rehabilitate the building’s storefronts, one of Bullock’s first priorities at Staats.

“If I could get three units paying $1,500 a unit on that first floor, that’s where we’re good on the project,” Bullock said of managing the project’s debt, which he called “a homeostasis phase.”

Bullock “won’t take on any more debt unless we execute a lease with someone” after the initial rehabilitation of Staats’ three storefronts and the roof is complete.

The Gazette previously reported that Bullock Properties LLC purchased the building. But Bullock said he created the second corporation because there are public funds involved.

“There needs to be complete transparency with everything that’s going on with this,” Bullock said. “I’ve made my books available to CURA and to Charleston Area Alliance at a moment’s notice.”

The building could “easily” cost $2 million to renovate, Bullock said. While a decent patch job could make the roof last for 10 more years, the building has bigger problems, caused by water damage. The cast iron downspouts that were built into the building’s four interior corners were scrapped, which has allowed water to pour through the building for a number of years.

“A few more years and it would be too much to fix this place,” Bullock said, as he led a group through the building last week.

Staats, named one of the state’s most endangered buildings, has held up well despite abuse from scrappers and the elements. Built in 1922 by the Staats brothers, one of whom was a doctor, and designed by John Norman — one of the first registered black architects in West Virginia — the building is in good condition structurally. It was built in an era when steel and masonry were used in unison, said project foreman Jamey Enoch. A steel exoskeleton was built first and then covered by bricks, Enoch said.

“Even if the bricks fall down, which isn’t likely, the steel structure would remain,” he said.

It’s a challenge the two are willing to take on. Bullock said he has walked through the building over the last five years, trying to develop a plan for its success.

“Everyone’s looked at it, and I guess they’re just intimidated,” Bullock said of the building.

Since its purchase, Crawford Holdings has cleaned out much of the building, filling three 30-yard refuse bins in the first two days of the project. In addition to roof work and the storefronts, Bullock wants to restore the building’s windows, many of which have their original glass, and salvage and restore its pressed-tin ceilings on the first floor.

The Staats building is one of a handful of projects Bullock has on the West Side, all part of a strategy to improve the main street and its surrounding neighborhoods.

“If I spend a dollar here, I might see two pennies of that dollar go to my other buildings,” Bullock said from the porch of a house he is renovating on Indiana Avenue. “I’m really trying to raise the value of this whole neighborhood financially, but also socially.”

The project should keep Bullock and his crew busy for the next three years, especially considering his additional responsibilities as a law school student, a member of the Thurmond (Fayette County) Town Council, and a legislative candidate. Bullock, 25, said he is used to choosing work over play — he started Bullock properties in 2009 when he was still a student at West Virginia University.

“I drove down every weekend without exception for an entire semester. My friends thought I had dropped out of college, honestly,” Bullock said.

He’s spending the summer “building a machine” that can run smoothly when he heads back to school in the fall, Bullock said. Enoch, 24, will be charged with supervising the operation when that day comes.

“I’m going to try to fill his [Bullock’s] shoes, but they’re pretty big shoes to fill,” Enoch said.

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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