There’s a good chance Marlinton will get as much as $150,000 from the state for a downtown redevelopment project, but hopes of getting back millions of dollars from a flood project fund have been dashed. That’s the good and bad news from the Rebuild Marlinton task force meeting on Monday morning.
Task force members in attendance included Chairman Steve Weir, Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith, Marlinton Recorder Robin Mutscheller, John Snyder, Darren Jackson and Phillip Cain. Mike Gioulis, with West Virginia ONTRAC, was also present. The task force was formed and the redevelopment project begun after a November 10 fire destroyed a half city block on Main Street in Marlinton.
Weir, executive director of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, said he had discussed funding for the project with state elected representatives, including Delegate Denise Campbell, Delegate Bill Hartman, Senator Clark Barnes and Senator Gregory Tucker.
“Robin [Mutscheller] and I met with the Pocahontas County delegation on January 15 in Charleston – three out of four members,” he said. “I have since talked with the fourth member, Delegate Hartman, who couldn’t be there. We met in Clark Barnes’ office.”
Mutscheller provided a summary of the meeting.
“During the meeting, we were reminded that times are difficult for the state, and it’s going to be a challenge to put forward a request, but they wanted to work with us.”
During previous meetings, the task force discussed the possibility of reclaiming as much as $2 million from an $8.5 million Marlinton flood project fund, which was revoked by the state in November.
“The initial $2 million request didn’t get very far,” said Mutscheller. “They didn’t think there would be support for that.”
Weir said the state had other plans for the $8.5 million.
“The state and the governor’s office, specifically, made it fairly clear that they want this money, that was compiled for the Marlinton flood program, to be used to meet the shortfalls in budget,” he said.
However, the task force has better prospects to obtain $150,000 for planning purposes.
“We put down a figure of $150,000 on the table,” said Weir. “Clark Barnes said he thought that they could work with that and support that. So, that’s where we are.”
One state representative suggested Marlinton join with other communities in a regional redevelopment project.
“One of the members asked if we would consider talking to some of the other towns in the region to see if there was any appetite for planning from a regional point of view,” said Weir.
“From an economic development point of view, looking at how we work with the other communities around to help bring in business, help bring in tourism, help bring in those kind of things – I think, possibly has some merit,” the chairman added. “Whether that happens with this particular project or happens outside of this particular project – that’s another matter. But the community of Marlinton has to decide if they want to take advantage of that suggestion. But I think our first point of business is getting $150,000 to plan with.”
Weir said similar regional initiatives include the Historic Tourism project in Marion, Harrison and Monongalia counties and the Heritage Area project, which includes nine West Virginia counties.
If the task force obtains funding, it will seek the services of qualified consultants and independent contractors through a request for proposals (RFP). Weir distributed a draft RFP to task force members, which stated the objective, “To create a conceptual plan for the redevelopment of the core commercial area destroyed by fire and to set an action plan in motion with hands-on implementation of identified initiatives to be accomplished within the term of the contract, coupled with a succession plan for the remainder of Marlinton.”
Following Weir’s report, Smith gave an update on his discussions with three Main Street property owners whose buildings were destroyed in the fire – Zach Chittum owns the former Old Bank Building lot; Kristy Lanier owns the former Dirt Bean Cafe lot; and Mike Hudson owns the former Hudson Variety building lot.
“I’ve talked to Mr. Chittum numerous times,” said Smith. “He’s in the process of putting a plan together. It looks like he is not committed, but is seriously looking at rebuilding a facility on his two or three lots on the far end. Kristy, who owned the Dirt Bean lot, was in and talked with me. She’s biding her time. She said some people had talked to her but, at this time, she’s not interested in selling unless the price is right. I heard this morning that Mr. Hudson had signed a contract for the sale of his property.”
Other task force members confirmed that a local businessman was in the process of buying the Hudson lot. Smith said he expected the new owner to remove quickly the ruins of the Hudson building – the sole remaining burnt structure – after the sale is completed.
Chittum reportedly developed a concept sketch for construction of a building at the site of the Old Bank Building, with five units on the ground floor, presumably retail spaces.
“I think he’ll need some help with tenants,” said Snyder.
“That seems to be one of his drawbacks,” said Smith. “He would like to have some commitment before he builds, which is basically just good business. The development authority has sort of experienced that with the Edray building. It’s difficult to build a building and not have a tenant for it.”
Smith said Lanier planned to re-open her popular coffeshop and cafe in Marlinton.
“Kristy is staying with us,” the mayor said. “She has bought a house here in town. She’s working with Mitchell Chevrolet for a location to re-open her business. When she came in and talked with me, I was very glad to hear that she has decided to stay and try to get her business back up and running.”
“My understanding is that she may be moving into a temporary location and working on a long-term location,” said Weir.
The next Rebuild Marlinton meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 10 at 9 a.m. All members of the public are invited to attend.