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Bingo business set to open in Berkeley Plaza

August 30, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Bingo is returning to Berkeley Plaza in a "big" way this weekend, and the new owners of the 42-year-old commercial property north of Martinsburg anticipate even more redevelopment as the immediate area continues to grow.

A grand opening for Big Bucks Bingo of Berkeley County at 215 Monroe St. is set for Saturday at 11 a.m., according to Berkeley Plaza owners Brent Jackson and Steve Crites.

The 40,000-square-foot gaming hall features separated smoking and nonsmoking areas that will seat up to 1,000 people.

More than 40 plasma televisions in both areas will display the balls chosen by a state-of-the-art dual blower bingo machine for games in both areas, which are completely separated by large glass windows, Jackson said. Both areas have separate entrances and bathrooms, he said.

Big Bucks Bingo will hold games Thursday through Sunday.

"It will eventually go seven days a week," Jackson said.

Incorporated in May as Kids Against Drugs of West Virginia, Jackson said Big Bucks Bingo has partnered with several nonprofit organizations that stand to benefit from the venture as sponsors for each day of operation.

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The organizations that have signed on as sponsors are the Eastern Panhandle Youth Football League Inc., Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 83, The Arts Centre, Martinsburg Lions Club, Berkeley County Sheriff's Department Association and the Berkeley County Humane Society, Jackson said.

"They use our name and they make a donation every month to the shelter," said Shari Persad, board president of the humane society. "We are sponsoring two nights - Friday and Sunday."

Persad declined to provide the donation amount, but was excited about the bingo venture's potential.

"We're trying to keep the money within the county," said Crites, who is a deputy with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

Growing up in the Hedgesville, W.Va., area, Crites said he remembers when Berkeley Plaza was the "hot spot," and now hopes the plaza can join the economic resurgence in and around Martinsburg's north end.

Bingo games were held in the shopping plaza space once occupied by J.C. Penney beginning in October 1997 to benefit the Martinsburg Boys and Girls Club, but eventually ended.

Jackson said he began negotiating with the former owner, Frederick (Md.) Business Properties Co., soon after a fire in June 2006 gutted Berkeley Theatres, one of the shopping plaza's fixtures over the years.

The locally owned movie theater reopened earlier this year after extensive remodeling. Jackson's company, Berkeley Plaza LLC, purchased the plaza in May for $5.9 million, according to Berkeley County Courthouse records.

Since taking over, Jackson said new tenants have spoken for all but a few remaining spaces, including a planned 20,000-square-foot restaurant for the former Acme grocery store and a 12-story office/retail building on an outparcel of the 23-acre property.

Jackson said he also has a facade renovation project in the works for the shopping strip, which he wants to return to prominence after years of being managed by out-of-state owners.

"I just think that's kind of why it didn't get the TLC it needed," Jackson said. "Steve and I are both hometown boys."

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