Energy company buys historic downtown building

PARKERSBURG – A company with ties to the oil and gas industry has purchased the former Blue Cross Blue Shield headquarters at Seventh and Market streets.

According to a deed filed with the Wood County Clark’s Office Monday, Siltstone Holdings LLC acquired the 111-year-old Union Trust and Deposit Co. building and the parking lot behind it from Highmark West Virginia for $475,000.

The seven-story structure has been vacant since Highmark – then known as Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield – moved into its newly built headquarters across the street in the latter half of 2009.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said city code enforcement and fire officials have been working with Siltstone representatives in recent weeks on the building.

“Their plan is to locate offices there, to begin with,” he said.

Holmes R. “Butch” Shaver, agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, said he was contacted by the company four or five months ago.

“They’re very positive about … the area,” he said. “It’s obvious they have a lot of confidence in the area to make the investment they did.”

Representatives of the company could not be reached for comment Monday.

Siltstone Holdings is affiliated with Siltstone Capital, an investment and advisory firm with corporate offices in New York and Houston. According to the company’s website, it invests in the energy sector and “manages private equity funds that conduct buyouts and provide growth capital investments in the exploration and production, oil services, midstream, power and renewable sectors of the energy industry.”

The region is in the midst of a new oil and gas boom as advancements in technology have opened up access to natural resources in the deep-underground Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Brazil-based Odebrecht announced its desire last fall to construct a petrochemical complex centered around an ethane cracker plant at the SABIC Innovative Plastics plant site in Washington, W.Va.

When Blue Cross moved to its new location in 2009, one idea for the Union Trust building was to establish restaurant and retail space on the first floor and condo apartments on the other six stories. The Great Recession slowed those plans, and Newell said Monday that the cost to update fire suppression systems also made the building less appealing for residential use.

Newell said Siltstone’s office space won’t take up all of the building’s 57,000 square feet, and leasing of other space inside could be on the horizon.

The mayor said the Union Trust building was one of the structures the city had in mind when it established a business and occupation tax rebate program to encourage investment in vacant properties. The city rebates B&O taxes back to the owner five years as the structure is renovated.

Having the building occupied is good news for the city, and downtown businesses, Newell said. Construction of the newer Highmark building and establishment of West Virginia University at Parkersburg’s downtown campus spurred the addition of some restaurants downtown, he said, and it could happen again with this news.

“More employees downtown … the existing restaurants will continue to do well or better,” Newell said. “It may attract others.”

The Union Trust building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It was built in 1903 at the order of oil magnate and former U.S. senator Johnson N. Camden and later conveyed to the Union Trust and Deposit Co. by his heirs, according to information from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.