WINTERSVILLE - Tony E. Morelli admits it's a little ironic alright.
He and his wife, Colleen, are the new owners of an older building that has a lot of Morelli family history behind it, not to mention a Morelli-based future.
What's been the Morelli Complex on Church Street since its construction around 1970 - home for many years to the original office of Morelli Block & Brick in the lower level - is now the Church Street Commons.
NEW OWNERS — Wintersville residents Tony E. Morelli and his wife, Colleen, stand in front of what used to be the Morelli Complex on Church Street in Wintersville, newly named Church Street Commons. In November 2012, the couple purchased the building that originally housed the offices of Morelli Block & Brick. A total interior renovation is afoot to accommodate present tenants and welcome new ones. Below, the Wintersville couple compare notes on what’s been done and what’s to come. -- Janice R. Kiaski
Tony and Colleen purchased the building on Nov. 30, their game plan a fresh name and a fresh start for the 10,000-square-foot building that has generated some construction cleanup for the couple during the past three months as renovations unfold.
And that's where it's a little ironic, a come-full-circle experience anyways for Tony, who was born and raised in Wintersville.
"When I was in high school, I would come here on the weekends when they were building this. My cousins and I, we would clean up the construction mess to make a couple bucks," said Tony, a 1975 graduate of Wintersville High School.
Colleen, a 1977 WHS graduate, has a sense of deja vu herself. She played instruments during high school and remembers patronizing DeLelles Studio during the mid-1970s when it operated out of the building's upper level.
"It's very ironic," Tony agrees of the past and present connection to the building he said opened around 1971 with the lower level providing space for the offices for the brick business that eventually moved. The upper level initially functioned as a rental hall, a place for events and parties.
"The downstairs was Morelli Block and Brick - that's why the building was built. It was their first office. The upstairs was a community hall basically. That was the thinking when they built it," Tony said.
"I can remember my sister Cheryl's graduation party was there," he added, noting that, over the years, the Morelli Complex has housed many businesses, even a church and a teachers' credit union.
Their motivation to buy the building was partly personal, to keep it in the family, but also to poise it for a renewed purpose as it accommodates current tenants and welcomes new ones.
Church Street Commons is home to Carl Arlotta Counseling; Christian Connection Counseling; Taylor Roofing; Kindred Flame Reiki; Kalin Walls; Hockenberry Heating; GPC Contracting, which is in the process of doubling its space from 400 to 800 square feet; and the newest tentant is Big Rig Truck Driving School out of Canton.
"We just signed a lease with them," Tony said of the school that offers training for people interested in obtaining their CDL license. He said the business opened here because of the oil and gas industry, and he is in discussions with another gas business-related company interested in possibly making Church Street Commons the place where it hangs out its open-for-business shingle.
Since its purchase, the building has been a busy place for improvements, including new energy-efficient windows, new drop ceilings, a rewiring of the upper level, a redo of the heating and air conditioning and a remodeling of restrooms. Outside, there are new signs, a new mailbox and plans for landscaping and parking lot improvements.
"We have done about half the building and are now getting ready to get started on the bottom," he said.
During an interview in one of the downstairs areas set for an overhaul, Colleen said it will be the site of Barrett Salon, a new state-of-the-art, full-service salon anticipated to open June 1. The space transformation from now to then "is going to be gorgeous," Colleen said.
The overall building improvements, according to the couple married for 20 years, comes with a respect and appreciation for the family history behind it, but with an eye toward its potential.
"When it was built, it was one of the nicest buildings in the area, and our vision is to bring it back to that," Tony said.
In sharing his heritage, Tony said his grandfather, the late Anthony Morelli Sr., came to the area from his native Italy. "He got into the coal business and was in the coal business in the Steubenville area from the 1950s until I think he retired in 1960," he said.
"When he retired from the coal business, my uncles (Benjamin, Geno and Clyde) and my father (Anthony M. Morelli) started Morelli Block and Brick," he explained. The four siblings used some old coal trucks left over from the coal business, operating on more or less of a bartering arrangement. "They still had coal, and one of their customers was a block manufacturer, Beloit Block, and they would take a load of coal down to them and pick up a load of block. Then they started selling block to people," he said of the company's beginnings.
"My dad still tells the story of back in those days, they would trade coal for Steubenville Bakery bread," he said, pointing out that his father keeps involved in the Church Street Commons project, lending a helping hand, for example, by meeting contractors and buying supplies.
Other family involvement is from Tony's brother, Todd Morelli, who handles the snow removal there.
What was constructed to be the Morelli Complex has good bones.
"It's a good building. Because of what it was, my family being in the masonry supply business for more than 50 years, all the interior walls are brick. Everything outside is brick. To build this building again, nobody would build it again. It would cost too much," Tony said.
"We're proud of that, that it is Morelli owned, but we changed the name because we thought this is the thing to do," Tony said, crediting Colleen with the name.
"It's a fresh new look and a fresh new start," she said. "We had the opportunity to give it a facelift, and this is what we've done in three months, and we plan on continuing to do a gutting and rebuilding," said Colleen, a nurse practitioner at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center/Tony Teramana Cancer Center. Tony is operations manager for SAL Chemical with 25 years' experience.
The couple lived in Indianapolis for 10 years, moving there in 1992, and returned to their roots 11 years ago, happily so, their same attitude toward seeing the Church Street Commons upgrade come to fruition.
"We have some tenants who have been here a long time, and if you talked to them, they're happy with what we've done," Tony said. "We want to make it right for the present tenants and offer room to bring in other businesses."
An additional 3,000 square feet is available, from 400- to 800-square-foot units. "We're flexible. We can do several things," he said.
"I am very proud of what my father and my uncles did, and the building was very good to them for many years, and they were good to this community," Tony said.
"This is our little way of giving back. It is part of Wintersville, and I'll always be from Wintersville. I am proud of what we've done so far," he said.
"We have a lot of work to do, but we'll get it done," Colleen added.
For information on Church Street Commons, call (304) 670-6078.