Planning commission OKs proposal for nonprofit center

by Natalie Reid Miller
Observer Reporter

More than 135 years ago, Wilfred Cameron had a homestead on what is now Strawberry Alley in Washington. On that land, Cameron started the family business, which would become Cameron Coca-Cola Bottling Co., the 10th-largest bottler in the United States.

Though the business was acquired by Coca-Cola Enterprises in 1998, the Cameron family has continued to invest in the community, with a $5 million donation for construction of the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center and a $2.5 million donation for the renovation and expansion of Washington & Jefferson’s Cameron Stadium.

Pete Cameron, great-grandson of Wilfred, is continuing the tradition of local investment with plans to construct a facility for nonprofit organizations.

“This project is part of giving back to this community,” he said. “We’re trying to build something special in the area.”

Cameron’s company, Commerce Street Partners LLC, plans to build a 5,200-square-foot community center at 59 E. Strawberry Alley, with six offices available for nonprofit organizations to lease. The facility will have a board room, kitchen area and additional space to be developed later.

A use-by-right application was approved by the City of Washington planning commission Thursday and will be presented to mayor and council Monday during their agenda meeting.

“Every job we can put downtown in the city is a benefit,” Cameron said. “Jobs and taxes are both good for the city.”

Cameron said he has been working to develop the center for years. He said there is a need for affordable office space for the area’s many nonprofit organizations and that several already have expressed interest in the proposed building.

Planning commission members expressed concern about the limited parking in the area, but Cameron said the proximity to Washington & Jefferson’s campus and Citizens Library make it an ideal location for the facility. The building will be one story with five parking spaces, plus one handicapped-accessible space.

Thomas O. Vreeland, an attorney whose office is close to the lot, said neighbors support the plan.

“We think this is a welcome addition to the community,” Vreeland said.

Cameron hopes to begin construction in about six weeks. He said that once the building is underway, it should take about a year to complete.