By MATTHEW UMSTEAD
9:06 PM EST, November 28, 2012
In his more than 50 years of real estate ventures, Benson Fogle says his purchase of the Shenandoah Hotel building in downtown Martinsburg stands alone — and not in a good way.
“I’ve never had a property I wasn’t able to find tenants for until I ran into the Shenandoah,” Fogle said in a recent interview.
Built in the 1920s by community investors, the hotel, its restaurant and ballroom once was a civic and social center for Martinsburg. Former U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy visited and actors Debbie Reynolds and Robert Mitchum once stayed at the five-story landmark on the corner of Martin and Queen streets.
Fogle “ran” into the building in 2000 when white paint was flaking from the building’s cornices and trim, and busted window panes invited pigeons inside.
Fogle said he has invested more than $2 million to bring the property up to code and make it marketable for tenants, but has had little success since he bought it for $180,000 nearly 12 years ago after it was put for auction.
“It’s just dead, and there’s nobody out there willing to take the risk,” said Fogle, who has arranged to have the property auctioned at 100 W. Martin St. at noon on Dec. 12 - “12-12-12 at 12,” he said.
“I think there’s a 50/50 chance it will sell,” Fogle said of the planned sale. “We’ll see if there is anybody out there that has an interest.”
Fogle said he will remain the property owner if the auction doesn’t attract a bid higher than $550,000.
The chandelier-lit restaurant and ballroom is ready for a catering business or a chef, but Fogle said he was advised that the upper floors would not be feasible for a hotel again.
Fogle said he has been told that the “best bet” would be to convert the hotel into an assisted living facility for seniors based on the availability of tax credits that are available to make such a project possible.
Fogle attributed his struggle to find tenants to a number of factors, including the economic downturn being much deeper and longer than expected.
“It’s not just Martinsburg, it’s everywhere,” said Fogle, noting the struggles of downtown Hagerstown and other communities.
Fogle said the market demographics for downtown Martinsburg haven’t been attractive to retail investors, either. And he laments the lack of momentum on plans to revitalize the historic Baltimore & Ohio roundhouse and shops, which many have suggested are a key to turning around downtown Martinsburg’s fortunes.
Fogle said his improvements to the building, meanwhile, only triggered increases in property taxes that went up “dramatically” as a result.
“That’s OK if you bring in new investment,” Fogle said.
Aside from halting obvious exterior decay, Fogle said he had the hotel building roof repaired, asbestos removed and several other improvements were made to support the operation of a restaurant or catering business.
Fogle also had the Shenandoah name restored to the building, which had been renamed the Gateway Inn in the 1960s. The hotel ceased operations in the 1980s.
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