WHEELING - For local leaders, the opening of a Barnes & Noble bookstore inside West Virginia Northern Community College's new Student Activities Center on Monday represents hope for a retail renaissance in downtown Wheeling.
"This is an important day for Northern," college President Martin Olshinsky said as WVNCC officials and city leaders gathered to cut the ribbon inside the new bookstore and Starbucks coffee shop.
Shelves stocked with school supplies and college-themed gifts and apparel give the place the distinct feel of a campus bookstore, but Olshinsky wants to be clear - all are welcome. Plenty traditional fiction and nonfiction selections are available to satisfy readers - and the cafe offers wireless Internet access, a varied menu of coffee and specialty beverages and a selection of pastries to accompany them.
GRAND OPENING — Patrons check out the new Barnes & Noble bookstore inside West Virginia Northern Community College’s new Student Activities Center during Monday’s grand opening.
-- Ian Hicks
Monday's grand opening represented the realization of a vision several years in the making: Transform an entire corner in the city and create a vibrant, college campus atmosphere that will spread through the downtown.
That opportunity presented itself when Straub moved its Honda and Hyundai dealerships to the Highlands, swapping its downtown property with the Ohio County Development Authority.
WVNCC purchased both properties for a total of $1.05 million and spent another $4 million or so to renovate the structures. It unveiled the labs and classroom facilities inside its Applied Technology Center - formerly the Honda dealership - in May.
While the new student center represents a key piece of that puzzle, it's not necessarily the last, Olshinsky hinted.
"We've got one more piece to go - I'll leave that as a teaser for you," he said, noting another potential WVNCC project in the downtown is in its very early planning stages and he couldn't elaborate.
If you ask Mayor Andy McKenzie, however, WVNCC already has delivered on its goal.
"I think the center of town is clearly 16th and Market streets. ... I think downtown is coming back," he said.
McKenzie also praised the work of Victor Greco and SMG Architects, who designed WVNCC's newly refurbished buildings.
"What vision. ... I was one of the people that looked at the building and said, 'Just bulldoze it,'" McKenzie said.
Greco said he's proud to have been part of a project he believes creates "a sense of place" in downtown Wheeling, and touched on various architectural features designed to tie the entire corner together. The clock tower, for example, is patterned after the one that once was part of the B&O building, he said.
WVNCC Board of Governors President the Rev. Darrell Cummings, Barnes & Noble Regional Manager Lil Kabasan and Steve Lipiello, WVNCC's vice president of administrative services and chief financial officer, also gave remarks during the ceremony.
Store hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. It may open for some special events on Sundays, as well.