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Md. businessman buys Gateway Building

January 25, 2001

Md. businessman buys Gateway Building



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The historic Gateway Building was officially sold Thursday and work has begun to make it acceptable for retail and other business space this spring.

The five-story structure at Martin and Queen streets that dates to the 1920s was sold for $180,000 to Ben Fogle of Bethesda, Md.

Fogle plans to turn the first floor of the former hotel into retail space and the upper four floors into office space, he said during an interview at Martinsburg City Hall Thursday.

Fogle said he's visited all around the area, but had never been to Martinsburg until a contractor friend Jim Palm, who runs Plateau Builders in the city, contacted him about the building.

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"He said this is a great building," Fogle said of his initial contact with Palm in November, the day after the building failed to attract any buyers at auction.

Fogle talked to former owner Tim Luwis of Virginia, and came to Martinsburg and talked to city officials, he said. In part, it was the atmosphere of the city that helped convince him to buy and renovate, along with the fact he thought a renovation was financially feasible.

"I was really struck by how charming the city was and all these magnificent old buildings they're restoring and saving. A lot of places, they aren't saving old buildings. They're doing that here. In the long run, it's better to keep an old building, even if it's just the shell, going.

"It's clear to me the city of Martinsburg is growing rapidly. I really like the way things are building. I love the old buildings."

Fogle is a businessman who owns 13 Potomac Video stores in the Maryland, northern Virgina and Washington area. He spends about half his time on his businesses and the other half on real estate interests such as this, he said.

"I've been doing this off and on for about 30 years," he said of taking old buildings and restoring them. He took the burned out shell of the Edgewater Building near Annapolis and restored that, he said.

"I've done a number of projects of a similar nature," he said. "I've remodeled a couple of buildings in much worse shape than this."

The building needs work to meet city code, and Luwis had been taken to court over violations. Fogle said his top priority will be fixing the violations and making the first floor ready for tenants. He estimates that the first phase will cost about $120,000 and be ready by spring or early summer.

The rest of the work will depend on the kind of tenants who might want to occupy the upper four floors of the former Shenandoah Hotel. He hopes to have them occupied or ready to lease in about a year.

Palm and Plateau builders will do all the work, Fogle said.

Palm has already boarded up some of the windows so the pigeons don't get in and plans to begin work in earnest immediately.

"Very quickly, you'll see a lot of code violations done and we'll get it spruced up and ready," he said.

He's uncertain exactly what kind of businesses will occupy the first floor. He's seeking public comment on what they would like. He's already heard of the desire for a coffee shop. The first-floor Peking Chinese Restaurant will remain.

He considered remaking the building into a hotel, but said that was not economically feasible - no bank would loan him the money for that, he said. As the Shenandoah Hotel, it was the civic and social center of the town until it was sold in 1967.

"It would be wonderful to return it the way it was, but it would be very expensive," he said. He also plans to keep the Gateway name, at least for now. Although he likes the old name, it would cost $15,000 to $20,000 for a new sign, he said.

City officials are delighted with the acquisition, said City Manager Mark Baldwin.

"It's another good day of good news for downtown Martinsburg as we've been having recently," said Baldwin, referring to several other renovation projects. "We're elated that a very large building in downtown is getting life."

Parking could be an issue, but Baldwin said the city is studying parking and traffic flow to determine present and future needs.

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