HUNTINGTON - A landmark "skyscraper" in downtown Huntington has been sold.

The Coal Exchange Building at the intersection of 4th Avenue and 11th Street sold for $500,000 during a public auction Thursday in the lobby on the ground floor of the historic building.

Joe Pyle, owner of Joe R. Pyle Complete Auction & Realty Co., auctioned the 14-story, 140,000-square-foot building in combination with the smaller building attached next door that has an additional 10,000 square feet of space.

About 60 people attended the event. Bidding started at $100,000 and in less than six minutes was up to half a million dollars.

"The auction hammer price was $500,000 and there is a 10% buyer premium added, which makes the final contract price $550,000," Pyle explained.

The winning bidder was Whirlwind Properties LLC, a Huntington real estate investment firm. However, after the auction was over, the company yielded the sale to Francis McGuire with McGuire Realty, who was representing the buyer.

"The buyer is Jay Barta, who owns many different companies," McGuire said. "He is also the owner of the DoubleTree by Hilton Huntington."

The DoubleTree by Hilton, which was formerly the Pullman Plaza Hotel, recently had over $7 million worth of renovations completed. It became the first DoubleTree by Hilton in West Virginia.

McGuire says Barta plans to renovate the ground-level floors of the two buildings into commercial space and make residential living spaces on the upper floors of the Coal Exchange Building.

"You won't see much renovation activity for several months, but his plans are to completely renovate these buildings," McGuire said.

Pyle said the buildings' $500,000 auction sale price was the approximate market value for the properties.

Pyle said the owners of the building, Mouwafak and Hanan Ghannam, are retiring from the property owning and managing business and decided that a public auction was the quickest way to close on a sale.

"The buildings have great bones, but need renovated on the inside," Pyle said. "With the location downtown, close to Pullman Square and Marshall University, this is a great deal. You can have retail space on the ground level and office or residential space on the upper floors."

The Coal Exchange Building has a grand entrance with three elevators, marble floors and walls in its main lobby, over 5,500 square feet of space on each level, 28 bathrooms, as well as a new boiler system, transformer, electrical work and a rubber roof.

While the Coal Exchange Building is not on the National Register of Historic Places, the high-rise is considered historic by locals. The building is the city's third-tallest building at 160 feet tall.

The building's tall concrete-and-steel centerpiece began life in the mid-1920s, according to Jim Casto, retired associate editor for The Herald-Dispatch, who has written about the building's history.

"Elaborately designed, with marble floors and walls in its lobby, it boasted offices that were larger and finer than any others in the city at that time," Casto wrote. "Not surprisingly, the building rapidly filled with tenants - doctors, lawyers and, of course, coal companies."

The Coal Exchange Bank occupied the ground floor, but the Great Depression resulted in its closure and forced bankruptcy on the building's owners, too. The property ended up being sold at auction at the Cabell County Courthouse in about 1933, and it is thought that that's when it was chosen by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for its engineering department and other offices.

Later, Kaiser Drug Store occupied the ground floor, and most recently it was home to Glenn's Sporting Goods before it moved to 1040 3rd Ave. It also at one time housed many other companies, including Knuckle Sandwich, Kindred Communications radio, the Herd Insider, Greater Huntington Theater Corp., Jenkins Fenstermaker Law Firm and the Marshall University Research Corp., among others.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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