Local civic improvement group GoMarlinton met with state officials on Monday evening to discuss economic development in historic downtown Marlinton. GoMarlinton board members in attendance included David Zorn, Agust Gudmundsson, Darren Jackson, B.J. Gudmundsson, Gail Hyer, Dennis Driscoll and Roger Trusler.
The original purpose of Monday’s meeting was to discuss the West Virginia Department of Commerce ON TRAC (organization, training, revitalization and capacity) program. Due to the November 10 fire in Marlinton, the group also discussed ways to help the town recover from the disaster.
“It’s a regroup meeting,” said Zorn.
“That’s a nice way to put it,” said Driscoll. “A regroup meeting, because the fire floored what we were trying to do.”
Spurred by GoMarlinton, the town joined the ON TRAC program in December 2012. The program helps encourage economic growth in communities by providing resources for evaluation, education and networking. Towns that participate in ON TRAC for two years are eligible to be designated as Main Street West Virginia communities. Main Street communities receive further assistance with revitalization of historic downtown commercial districts, in the form of technical services, design assistance, and continuous training of board/committee members and program managers.
Nikki Williams, West Virginia ON TRAC coordinator, and Lara Lawson, community development representative, from the State Development Office (SDO), arrived from Charleston for the meeting. Accompanying the two officials was Michael Gioulis, an expert in historic preservation and rehabilitation, who does a lot of work for the state.
Gioulis said Mannington provides a good example of a community that overcame fire damage.
“They had a series of arsons, that wiped out about five or six buildings in the downtown,” he said. “They weren’t all in one block, but they were scattered throughout the downtown. On one of the key blocks, they made a concerted effort, and turned what could have been an eyesore into a successful project. So we might try to get people from Mannington to talk to you all about that process.”
Williams said the group was in the early planning stages with ON TRAC, so no work was lost due to the fire. The coordinator recommended going forward with training of ON TRAC committees, which could contribute to the town’s revitalization efforts.
“It’s going to be vital to get those four committees up and running and getting them trained, so that they know what they’re supposed to be doing and how to do it,” she said. “I’m hoping that, before we leave today, we can set out a timeline of when we can do that, after the Christmas holidays.”
The board agreed to conduct ON TRAC committee training on January 20 an 21. Williams and the SDO will support that training.
Zack Chittum, owner of the lot where the Old Bank Building formerly stood, spoke to the group via teleconference.
Chittum said he had spoken to Kristy Lanier, owner of the adjacent Dirt Bean lot, who told him she was undecided whether to rebuild at the same location.
“I don’t know that anybody’s planning to rebuild, other than us,” he said. “We’re still on the fence, as far as what we can afford to build. It’s got to make sense, financially, and we’ve got to make sure we have possible tenants lined up and do some cost analysis. But I don’t know what Kristy plans on, I think she’s on the fence, too. We’re still in the information gathering stage.”
Chittum said he was considering all options, including the purchase of adjacent lots and construction of a building with an appropriate historic design.
“It might be more economical, as a means of construction, to utilize wood from some of the local lumber mills, and maybe even recreating something that looks more like a Western type of town building, or something that looks more like the depot, or something that might be easier to rebuild or not cost quite as much per square foot,” he said.
The lot owner said much of the bricks and solid debris on the lot will not be removed, but used with other fill to build the site up, above the floodplain, required for new construction.
“We definitely love Marlinton,” he said. “We see a lot of value in the town. I think it could be a lot more than what it is. It’s a great town, as it is, but there’s a lot of things that could be taken advantage of, like tourism and retail. You could utilize some more eateries. There are things where we see a lot of potential.”
Gioulis said he would contact Chittum the following day to provide information.
Driscoll talked about the Rebuild Marlinton Task Force town committee meeting that he attended earlier in the day.
“This morning, there was a certain amount of acrimony, expressed by at least one member of the group that the mayor appointed, that we were trying to jump in on their coattails or take over from them,” he said. “I hope that he got the message that I expressed, that we weren’t, that we are trying to help. I don’t want anybody to get the idea that we want to take anything over from this steering group over here at town hall. Because we’ve been working on this for a long time – before the fire. We’re not trying to do their job”
“It’s not important who does what, as long as it gets done,” said Zorn.
“ON TRAC and GoMarlinton is downtown revitalization and community revitalization,” said Williams. “It has been and it’s going to be. The fire buildings are part of that, but it’s a whole bigger picture. If that’s what they want to focus on and do, well, you’re there to support it, but there’s a whole, bigger picture to look at.”
ON TRAC committee training will be conducted on January 20 and 21 at the Snowshoe Career Center. An agenda will be published, when available.