Lights ON! West Virginia is a company with a bright mission: to sustainably revitalize downtown areas across rural West Virginia.
Two entrepreneurs, Brandon Holmes and George Rogers, launched Lights On! in 2007 as a real estate holding company to buy and renovate a building for their web marketing firm, Weld Media.
To save a slice of community history, Holmes and Rogers decided to buy an existing building, rather than build a new one. As regular visitors to the New River Gorge area — a favorite destination for climbing, rafting, kayaking, and hiking — the duo decided to set up home base nearby.
They found a two-story building with 10,000 square feet of space that badly needed renovating in downtown Oak Hill. But finding the funding to buy and renovate an old, dilapidated building is tricky, and banks didn't want to take the chance of financing the project in total.
Luckily, Weld found The Conservation Fund’s National Capital Investment Fund (NCIF). NCIF is a Shepherdstown, West Virginia-based organization dedicated to funding natural resource-based businesses that may be a little too risky for banks to fully fund. NCIF uses its assets to increase the rural economic base by investing in small businesses in small towns. "They allowed this project to happen," said Brandon.
When complete, the Lights On! building will be the first privately held existing LEED-certified building in West Virginia — an accomplishment that sits in a town of 7,500 people.
Occupying only part of the building, Lights ON! decided to rent out the rest, creating what Brandon calls “micro-office” environments. This model of downtown revitalization, based on diverse businesses sharing space in a sustainable manner, became the company’s focus. "Brandon really began to articulate the idea of all these little towns reinventing themselves to provide the kind of social environment that would attract the creative class to come and live here. The building became the vehicle for the thinking," said Gene Kistler, one of three owners of Lights On!
Jenny Beckstead, the company’s executive administrator, added: "Now Lights ON! is in a position to consult on the process of renovating “green”, based on our experiences. The idea is to provide a model for this redevelopment by capitalizing on these existing assets.”
Lights On! uses the term 'embodied energy' to talk about renovating existing buildings as opposed to building from scratch. The environmental benefits of renovating are clear to Lights On!, said Beckstead. "You think about all the energy that's tied-up in a building. There’s energy savings in using a structure that already exists."
To learn more about NCIF, please visit www.ncifund.org.