W.Va. Kirkbride group seeks RTC [UPDATED]Published 10:59am Friday, October 12, 2012 Updated 11:13am Friday, October 12, 2012
The management of a West Virginia Kirkbride facility has confirmed to The Journal that it has expressed interest in purchasing the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center property in order to preserve the Kirkbride building and turn it into a major tourist attraction.
“We’d do the same as we are doing here,” said Rebecca Jordan Gleason, the operations manager of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, W.Va.
Formerly known as the Weston State Hospital, the building was purchased from West Virginia in 2007 by Gleason’s father Joe Jordan, who paid $1.5 million for the structure. Jordan changed the building’s name back to the institution’s original, less politically correct name and opened the facility to tourists and customers in the spring of 2008, putting much of the money collected from visitors right back into the building’s preservation. Efforts are ongoing at the asylum, but Gleason said a large amount of the 242,000 square foot building (smaller than the Fergus Falls Kirkbride) has already been restored to good and near-original condition.
“It’s 100 percent ours to preserve, and that’s what we’d like to do in Fergus Falls,” she said.
Preservation and maintenance costs for such a large structure can be expensive, which is why the Jordan family and the asylum staff of 40 employees have worked to monetize the building in a dizzying variety of ways. Different events and activities that take place at the building include six-days-a-week preservation tours, Civil War history tours, photography tours, a giant Easter Egg hunt, dinner theater, a 500-person costume ball, a battle of the bands, a haunted house, ghost hunts, a motorsports association (events are held at an old farm site adjacent to the building) and more.
“We try to roll out with a few new tours every year giving people a new reason to come back,” Gleason said.
The asylum does a lot of advertising and helps bring a lot of people into Weston, which has a population approximately one-third of Fergus Falls’. The alsylum’s biggest month is October, when Gleason estimated that 25,000 people come to the building – most of them for the haunted house. In all, the asylum management believes that about 170,000 from around the area, the country and the world have visited the building.
Gleason initiated contact with the city-contracted marketing firm Colliers International recently after she saw on the local Friends of the Kirkbride Facebook page that the building was for sale. She said the contact between the asylum management and Colliers is still in its infancy, and dollar amounts involved in purchasing and redeveloping the building have not been set. There are also other parties interested in the building at this time, according to a recent Colliers report.
Though Gleason doesn’t know how the asylum’s dealings with Fergus Falls will end up – management hasn’t even visited the city yet to see the RTC – she is hopeful that the RTC can be preserved and turned into something useful and beautiful rather than be torn down.
“There aren’t enough of those buildings left,” she said.