Two Wellman residents are trying to inject life into a downtown by teaching an old building some new tricks.
Austin and Kelsey Bayliss bought the building, 255 and 257 28th Ave. in Wellman, in January for $35,000, and have begun cleaning out the space.
The building currently is split into two separate areas, with a second floor housing four apartments.
Built in 1906, one side of the building was a movie theater from 1913 to 1958, then became the Driscoll Studio of Framing in 1959. The photo and framing studio was in operation until fall 2020.
The other side of the building over the years has housed a billiard hall, multiple restaurants and, most recently, a hair salon, Austin Bayliss said.
He said the plan is to gut the upstairs apartments and bring in an architect to redesign the floor, hopefully adding more units.
They hope to have the apartments available for rent by this time next year.
Housing is a large issue in the Washington County community, Bayliss said, and they’ve spoken with city officials who said they’re excited for the apartments to open. People walking by saw the Baylisses cleaning out the building and asked when they’d be ready, he said.
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The downstairs also will be renovated to become one large area to host events rather than two separate spaces.
The couple spoke with community members about what they’d be interested in seeing downtown and one idea that came up was a coffee house. But Bayliss said with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting businesses, opening a coffee shop would be risky.
“It’s not a very pretty building right now,” Bayliss said.
“That’s part of the magic to this story ... . If it doesn’t get the TLC it needs, it’s not going to be good — not just for the property but the downtown district in Wellman, too.”
Certain aspects of the movie theater, such as a projection room and theater entrance doors, still exist. Bayliss said they’d like to preserve those historical parts and work them into the events-venue programming, such as hosting watch parties for local sporting events.
The building should be able to hold 250 to 300 people for events. One woman has expressed interest in holding an annual flea market in the space.
Since 2007, Bayliss has put on live events as owner of Central Empire Wrestling, and he said he hopes to rejuvenate downtown and make it a destination.
“We have a six-year-old, we want to keep him in town,” Bayliss said. “We want him to grow up and see the world but also not be afraid to say, ‘I want to raise my family here as well.’”
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