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Businessman brings new life to old building

December 07, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - In its 100th year, the former YMCA and City Hall building in Martinsburg continues to be a center of recreation and progress.

On Friday, the latest evolution of the stout, eclectic mission-style structure at 224 W. King St. will be celebrated as a new home to active arts, professional services and high-tech business incubators.

"I wanted to get companies in here that could all support each other," said David Levine, owner of what he has dubbed the Eastern Panhandle Innovation Center (Epicenter).

Epicenter will host the City Club forum's December luncheon as part of an open house and workshop presented by Levine and Howard Teich, a psychologist and consultant credited with pioneering models to effect corporate change and improve executive performance.

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"This is what the City Club is all about - to highlight the successes," said Paul Pritchard, who launched the forum and coordinates activities.

"This is more than a bunch of people renting people space," Pritchard said of Epicenter. "David has bright people who really are mutually benefiting each other."

Epicenter's current "resident members" are:

· Docutex Inc., a records conversion and management company

· James W. Sewall Co., a geospatial consulting firm

· A. Neal Barkus PLLC, a workplace labor and employment law practice

· Noyesworld, a new media production and innovating marketing company

· Claypool, an open source technology company

· Datacaster LBS LLC, Levine's geospatial technology start-up company

· Western Masters Karate

· Sun Yoga & Reiki

· Berkeley County Wildcats Cheer & Dance.

After years of not being used, the four-floor building's full-size gymnasium was converted to house the martial arts studio and cheer and dance groups, which hold their activities in the evening and do not disrupt the business day, Levine said.

"When we did a design for the building, all the architects kept telling me that we needed to make this two floors and make it usable space ... and I was like, 'You can't kill the gym," Levine said.

Levine credited Wildcats founder/head coach Carrie Tharp with spurring reuse of the gym, which still has the basketball rims mounted on either end.

"She really got this going ... when I leave at 5 o'clock, it's just totally filled with kids," Levine said. And some of the people that work in the building are involved in the martial arts programs.

"We really love having that gym space," said Tharp, who previously operated out of a firehouse.

Though the building still retains reminders of its past uses, Levine said the success of the incubator really has little to do with the structure, which he hopes some members are able to "grow out of."

"It's all about the dedication of the people involved," Levine said. "I wanted to get companies in here that could all support each other."

Levine purchased the building in 2002 for Butterfly.net Inc., his online gaming software company. Two years later, Butterfly.net moved to California. It has since been renamed Emergent Game Technologies Inc.

Built in 1908, the YMCA building's potential as a business incubator materialized after Levine said he was tapped to run the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center in Wheeling, W.Va.

"What a lot of people don't understand about getting businesses going is ... the most important thing is actually psychological, that there's real inner work that needs to be done and also collaborative work and whatever shadows or issues the team has will manifest in the company," Levine said. "Unless you solve those problems, your company won't take off."

An admitted "techie," Levine, who grew up in Bethesda, Md., said he gets interested in things and has to pursue them.

At Yale, he studied philosophy "because I actually wanted to figure everything out, you know I needed to know 'how' and 'why' and all that."

In 1992, Levine started his own consulting company, mainly to finance his new hardware "habit," but the future of what he was doing in the tech world had become clear to him.

"I really saw that the Internet was going to be the infrastructure for all communications and everything else," Levine said.

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