In response to a November 10 fire that destroyed three Main Street buildings, Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith has created an economic redevelopment task force. During a press conference Tuesday morning, Smith said Steve Weir, Executive Director of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, had accepted an appointment as the task force leader.
The mayor announced the following appointments to the task force: Town Recorder Robin Mutscheller; Phillip Cain, to represent the financial community; Darren Jackson, Chamber of Commerce and GoMarlinton member; Fred C. Burns, Jr., Chairman of the Marlinton Housing Authority; and Steve Hunter, to serve as the task force attorney. The mayor also requested a member from both the Pocahontas County Commission and Region IV Planning and Development Council.
“These citizens will serve the town for an indefinite period of time,” said Smith.
Following the mayor’s remarks, Weir spoke to the media.
“First of all, I’d like to thank Mayor Smith for the opportunity to serve on this committee and I would like to thank the other members for agreeing to serve and work with us,” he said. “I especially want to commend Mayor Smith on his leadership and initiative in this and throughout this whole tragedy and dealing with it. I’ve had people say to me that the town was indeed fortunate to have him as its leader when this happened.”
Weir said the task force would focus on the entire downtown area, not just the half-block razed by fire.
“This is a chance for people to rally and come together and look at what needs to be done, what opportunities there are and how best to reconstruct and rebuild, not just that particular block of Marlinton, but the downtown area also.”
Weir said he foresees the task force completing its mission in three parts.
“The three parts that I see, are first, to quickly and effectively assess the issues and the opportunities at hand with this, because there are going to be both,” he said. “We want to make sure we do a good job of doing that, to make sure that we aren’t missing anything and that we’re taking into consideration all the factors that need to be taken into consideration.
“The second is the rebuilding of the block that was destroyed by the fire. I believe that needs to be done with a design and a purpose that benefits the entire town. So, we’ll be looking at doing it that way. Specifically, those surrounding blocks or those blocks immediately adjacent – but all of the town. This is an opportunity for us to assess the needs of Marlinton and move forward.
“The third then, I think, is how do we sustain that revitalization and maintain a vitality to the community. There are projections that say the United States is going to increase its population by about 90 million people by 2050. The vast majority of that will be in the cities, which means that rural communities need to look at where their opportunities lie. How do they work with those larger metropolitan areas and where do we find that niche for growth and development?”
Smith was asked why there is emphasis to rebuild at the fire location – inside the floodplain – rather than pursuing development in areas of the town outside the floodplain.
“That’s a good question,” said the mayor. “I think the assumption is that it’s on the main highway, and it looks terrible to have a vacant hole in the middle of your town. Since 1900, that has been the business district of Marlinton, so to speak.”
Weir said there is justification to rebuild on Main Street.
“I think there would be some justification for looking elsewhere if it was part of a larger development that everybody agreed to,” he said. “But, if you just look at the fact that it’s Main Street and it has been the prime location for exposure to retail – and not even consider the historical or cultural aspects of putting it back in place – you’d still probably have a justification for doing it right there again.”
Smith took the opportunity to thank those who assisted during the emergency.
“I want to personally thank and commend the many surrounding fire departments that came to our aid in a time of need,” he said. “Without their assistance, the town could possibly have lost a lot more. Also, the outpouring of volunteers and the support from our citizens, plus people and organizations all over West Virginia, has been enormous, to say the least. I cannot begin to express my great gratitude to the many, many people who came forward to help in any way.”
No meeting dates have been set for the redevelopment task force. Smith and Weir concurred that community involvement was essential in completing and maintaining a successful redevelopment project.