Morgantown agency moving to acquire Pennsylvania Avenue properties

MORGANTOWN — The formation of the Morgantown Land Reuse and Preservation Agency was finalized in January 2019, making it the first of its kind in West Virginia. 

It opened with a bang. 

That same year, the agency privately financed $1.6 million through Community Bank to buy the 12,000-square-foot building at 430 Spruce St., currently serving as Morgantown’s temporary city hall. 

That remains MLRPA’s only acquisition to date. 

But it looks like there’s about to be a second, and possibly a third and fourth. 

During its most-recent monthly meeting, the body approved the purchase of 657 Pennsylvania Ave. for a price not to exceed $60,000. 

The property sits at the split of Brockway and Pennsylvania avenues on .03 acres, according to the Monongalia County Assessor’s parcel viewer site. The land and structure, described as a “tear down,” during the meeting, has an appraised value of $94,000 according to the site. 

Just up the road, a purchase sale agreement is in the works for the acquisition of 570 Pennsylvania Ave. Talks are underway regarding other properties along that street. 

“This is one of the targeted areas we’re focused on,” Morgantown Director of Development Services Rickie Yeager said. 

Tim Stranko, one of the agency’s seven board members, explained the ultimate goal is to acquire those properties and batch them together as a single demolition project.  

Moving away from Pennsylvania Avenue, there’s also interest in 121 Kingwood St., which, according to Yeager, has been vacant for well over a decade. 

“They’ve made contact with the city attorney’s office and they’re preparing the deed and other documents that need to be done for 121 (Kingwood) to be acquired. As soon as we do have control of that, we’ll schedule an underutilized property committee and go out and look at the property and assess whether it should be slated for demolition or there’s a potential for rehab,” he said. 

Made possible by the legislature’s passage of the West Virginia Land Reuse Agency Authorization Act in 2014, a land reuse agency, or land bank, is a public body created to facilitate the return of vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties for productive use. As the name suggests, it can also be used to preserve or protect land.  

The agency has autonomy to make purchases or acquire property through gifts, public or private lenders or other means. Morgantown City Council appoints members to three-year terms but does not have final say over acquisitions.  

The agency cannot access city funds, exercise eminent domain or make purchases outside city limits. 

According to The Dominion Post archive, the city agreed to pay $138,000 annually to MLRPA for use of the first floor of the Spruce Street building. The agency anticipated another $60,000 in annual revenue for second-floor tenants. 

In December 2022, Morgantown City Hall (389 Spruce) closed for a major renovation project, forcing all city offices across the street into what was initially called the “city hall annex.” 

Morgantown City Hall is expected to reopen to the public next month. Some offices, including the city manager’s office, human resources, IT and city communications are expected to stay at 430 Spruce St.