A group of dedicated volunteers got together about five years ago to brainstorm ideas on how to make Marlinton a better place to live, work and visit. The group became GoMarlinton and achieved results by focusing on one project at a time, like obtaining colorful flags for the light posts along Main Street.
In 2012, GoMarlinton focused on the ambitious goal of making Marlinton a Main Street community. Main Street West Virginia is a selective program that assists communities with economic revitalization of commercial districts by providing technical services, design assistance, and continuous training of board/committee members and program managers.
GoMarlinton has made a lot of progress toward the Main Street goal. The group completed training and, with the town council’s approval, applied for Marlinton to be accepted into the ONTRAC (organization, training, revitalization and capacity) program. In December 2012, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin welcomed Marlinton into ONTRAC.
ONTRAC is like basic training for the Main Street program. Communities must be in ONTRAC for at least two years before applying to become a Main Street community. Twelve towns and cities in West Virginia, including White Sulphur Springs and Ronceverte, have graduated from ONTRAC and been designated Main Street Cities. Thirteen other communities, including Marlinton, Elkins, Parsons and Beverly, are currently in the ONTRAC phase. During two-years of ONTRAC, community groups receive training, have access to resources, and are expected to achieve progress in planning and organization.
On Monday evening, GoMarlinton began formal ONTRAC training and organization at the Snowshoe Career Center. Nikki Williams, with the West Virginia Development Office, gave a brief class on committees and their responsibilities. Following the class, the group forged ahead and made initial committee assignments.
Darren Jackson and Dennis Driscoll were assigned to the organization committee, which keeps the group working on the same goal and manages people and resources to implement the downtown revitalization program.
B.J. Gudmundsson, Roger Trusler, Brynn Kusic and Robin Francisco were assigned to the design committee, which is responsible for getting downtown into top physical shape. ONTRAC design committees encourage appropriate new construction, instill good maintenance practices in the commercial district, rehabilitate historic buildings and conduct long-term planning.
Mark Strauss and Dennis Driscoll were appointed to the economic development committee, which is responsible for strengthening Marlinton’s existing economic assets while expanding and diversifying its economic base.
David Zorn, along with a member of the Artisan’s Cooperative and a member of the Opera House board, will serve on the promotion committee. The promotion committee is expected to sell a positive image of the commercial district and encourage consumers and investors to live, work, shop, play and invest in the downtown district.
Williams described the benefits of achieving Main Street designation.
“The benefit of becoming a Main Street community is a network across the country of other communities doing development work,” she said. “It is state resources, as far as capacity building, training, expertise in certain development areas and bringing those resources to individual communities. It’s a standard. There are about 1,500 Main Street communities across the country and there are certain criteria that a community must meet to become certified. So, to help communities that are trying to do economic development work and give them the structure to move forward to become one of the premier communities across the country.”
The coordinator said the program is intended to assist, not displace local governments.
“ONTRAC and Main Street organizations are community-based,” she said. “They are for citizens who would like to see their communities become better, to work in partnership with current organizations and with the city government or county government to improve the community. “It’s not, ‘who should be doing what?’ – it’s, ‘what needs done and how can we work together to get that done?’”
Williams said some ONTRAC/Main Street funding comes from the state and federal governments.
“At the state level, as far as my position and the Main Street position – we’re pretty much just an office of two – state and federal funds are what fund our position and provide technical assistance money for the communities,” she said. “The individual ONTRAC and Main Street communities are self-funded. They do not receive operating funds from the state, at this time.”
Williams was impressed with Marlinton ONTRAC’s first official meeting.
“I think it went fantastic,” she said. “There were a lot of great questions. People were engaged. I think people walked away with a better understanding of the Main Street process and of ONTRAC, which was the goal.”
GoMarlinton/ONTRAC invites area residents to participate in their community improvement effort. All of the group’s meetings are open to the public.