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Renovations seen as boost to downtown

February 10, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

Renovations seen as boost to downtown

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The renovation of the St. Margaret's Building into a new magistrate court and other county offices will help improve Charles Town's downtown, officials said.

Attorney Peter Chakmakian, owner of the building across George Street from the Jefferson County Courthouse, said he has wanted to do the project for years.

"I think it'll be a major step for Charles Town. It'll be a major step in revitalizing the downtown," he said.

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As part of the project, a small two-story wood building adjoining the St. Margaret's Building was torn down.

The building had been Chakmakian's law office for the past 26 years, but it was necessary to expand St. Margaret's into the space that will be leased to the Jefferson County Commissioners, Chakmakian said.

"It's tough," he said of ordering the building's demolition. "It's really the only place I've practiced law."

He has since moved his law firm to a temporary location in Ranson, W.Va., and is currently negotiating with the City of Charles Town to lease and renovate the nearby Rouss Fire Hall to serve as his office space.

"Everything's in boxes still," Chakmakian said in a recent interview at his current office in Ranson.

The man who will be responsible for the restoration of a large block of Charles Town near the town's center was born in Boston and moved to Washington, D.C., with his family while still a child.

In 1963, he and a friend decided to start their own business and opened the John Brown Distillery Co. in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

After the business closed in 1968, Chakmakian decided to stay in the area and practice law. He obtained a law degree in his spare time while working at the business.

Chakmakian had not planned on becoming a renovator of downtown buildings.

He bought St. Margaret's about 15 years ago when a real estate agent walked into his office because it was next door and told him it was for sale.

Chakmakian was renting the building out as apartments and offices.

"I looked at the building and decided eventually it would be an asset worth having," he said.

Chakmakian said he first offered the building to the county commissioners to turn it into the magistrate court building 14 years ago.

Proposals were revised over the years as the county's needs changed, he said.

The current plan calls for a four-story building that will continue the facade of St. Margaret's down the street to the new addition.

John Shea, president of the Charles Town-Ranson Business and Professional Association, said the renovation project could provide a boost to small businesses in downtown Charles Town.

It also helps the downtown area by keeping the courts, and the people who do business there, in Charles Town's center instead of relocating outside of town, he said.

Chakmakian said the plan will cost him about $3.35 million. If he is able to get Charles Town officials to agree with his plan for the Rouss Fire Hall, he expects that will cost an additional $300,000

The work on the new courthouse is expected to be finished in early 1999.

"Court could be moved into it after that," Chakmakian said.

Magistrate court is currently held in a building down the street. Clerks complain of a lack of space for records, while magistrates have to hold court in narrow courtrooms in the basement with overhead pipes across the low ceiling.

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