Video lottery cafe planned

CHESTER The new owner of the Finemans Department Store building in downtown Chester says he wants to develop the property into a parking lot and a video lottery cafe that also serves food.

We saw the huge For Sale sign, and we thought that would be a good location, said Chester attorney M. Eric Frankovitch, whose Weirton Investments LLC recently bought the vacant, blighted building.

Weirton Investments also bought the Cooter Browns building next door, at the corner of Carolina Avenue and Fifth Street, which Frankovitch said will make a nice cafe building. The vacant building will be razed to make way for a parking lot, he said.

Chester Mayor Ken Morris announced the sale in early February but, at the time, did not know how the property would be developed. He said the only stipulation the city had was that the building not be turned into a bar.

I worried about it for a long time. At least we had a say in what goes in there. Were OK with that. I think its going to be an improvement, Morris said.

The city of Chester bought the building, 504 Carolina Ave., in May 2012 for $50,000 in the hopes of marketing it for economic development purposes. The city obtained a $16,000 state grant to help pay for the demolition, which is being done by Juszczak Construction.

Known mainly as the former site of Finemans Department Store, which closed in 1972, the building at one time also housed a florist, an insurance agency and Taco Hueys Restaurant & Lounge.

If Frankovitch follows through on his plans, the building will become the sixth limited video lottery establishment in Chester owned by Weirton Investments, he said. The others are: Cactus Club Cafe and More, Caribbean Cafe, Red Dog Cafe, Mugsys Cafe and More, and Palm Cafe. With the exception of Cactus Club, at 109 First St., the clubs are located along West Carolina Avenue, which turns into Ohio River Boulevard closer to Newell.

Ever since the West Virginia legislature legalized such establishments in 2001, they have proliferated in Chester and elsewhere in Hancock County. According to West Virginia Lottery records, there are 76 limited video lottery establishments in Hancock County 43 in the Hancock County portion of Weirton, 21 in Chester, six in New Cumberland, five in Newell and one in New Manchester.

Thats not including the video lottery machines at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort, which generate about $2.8 million in revenue annually for Hancock County.

The cafes feature interactive gaming machines, similar to slot machines, that are tied into the West Virginia Lotterys central computer in Charleston and that patrons can play for cash prizes. Cafes are limited to five machines, while veterans and fraternal organizations can have as many as 10 per location.

Retailers pay a one-time $500 application fee and must fulfill other financial and business requirements before being approved for the placement of video lottery terminals. Cafes cannot be within 150 feet of another West Virginia Lottery location or within 300 feet of a church, school, daycare center, public park or business that sells petroleum products.

Frankovitch said he and his partners have endeavored to operate cafes that are an asset to the community. We put a lot of money into them. We fixed them up really nicely. We intend to do the same thing there (at the new location), he said.

One reason for the new location is the fact that Frankovitch plans to close Logans Lazy Cafe in Wellsburg and move its video lottery terminals to Chester. This looked like a good place for them, he said. If we didnt place them somewhere, wed lose them.

Morris said he has no problem with Chester getting another video cafe. Theyre going to take good care of it. Theyre going to do it right, Morris said of the Frankovitch group. Its a major improvement to our downtown.

Morris noted that Chester receives 2 percent of the revenues produced by the video lottery machines located within the city. In January, that amounted to $3,041.87, according to the West Virginia Lottery.

Before the Finemans building is razed, the contractor will have to remove a small amount of asbestos that is part of a fireplace, Morris said. The mayor expects demolition to begin later this month.

Were hoping that in the next few weeks well have some activity, Frankovitch said, and that it will be completed by late spring.