- The Rebuild Marlinton task force held its first meeting on Tuesday morning and planned some initial strategies for the redevelopment of the half block in Marlinton destroyed by fire on November 10. In the photo, left to right: Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith, Marlinton Recorder Robin Mutscheller, Pocahontas County Commissioner William Beard (back to camera), Region IV Jobs Development Council Director John Tuggle, GoMarlinton representative Darren Jackson (back to camera), task force Chairman Steve Weir, Phillip Cain and Housing Authority representative Fred Burns, Jr.
The Rebuild Marlinton task force held its first meeting on Tuesday morning at Marlinton’s Municipal Building. Mayor Joe Smith created the seven-member committee last month to further redevelopment of the downtown area that was devastated by fire on November 10. The task force completed an initial plan to get underway with rebuilding on the half-block destroyed by fire.
Task force Chairman Steve Weir is the director of the Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation (GVEDC). Other task force members are Smith, banking representative Phillip Cain, Housing Authority representative Fred Burns, Jr., GoMarlinton representative Darren Jackson, County Commissioner William Beard and Marlinton Recorder Robin Mutscheller. John Tuggle, Region IV Jobs Development Council Director, was also present for the meeting.
Weir told the group that no assistance has been requested from the state, because the task force should have an initial plan before requesting aid. The chairman said the Legislature begins its 2014 session on January 8, when the state government can take action on funding assistance. Weir recommended a meeting with state elected officials before that date.
Cain said the task force needs to ascertain the plans of the three affected landowners. Weir concurred and asked if the task force should be prepared to discuss the possibility of the Housing Authority purchasing one or more of the properties.
“Would the approach be to meet with them and say, ‘We would like you to continue to own the property and redevelop it? If you don’t want to do that, we would like to make an offer on it, through the Housing Authority.’ Do you want to go to that extent?”
“I think we have to,” said Jackson. “We can’t turn that into a city park.”
“I’m like Darren,” said Smith. “That property needs to be owned by somebody who is going to attempt to redevelop it. We don’t need any more vacant lots.”
Smith said he and Burns would speak with the property owners to discuss their plans. The mayor said he thought the Hudson Variety lot owner wanted to sell their lot. He said Zach Chittum, the owner of the Old Bank Building lot, wanted information on potential tenants before he would decide whether to rebuild at the the site. Smith said he had no information on the plans of Kristy Lanier, the owner of the Dirt Bean lot.
“I’m not a coffee drinker, but that coffeeshop did a lot of business,” the mayor said. “I saw people in there all the time. Regardless whether it was the same owner or a different owner, I would think that there would be a need for that type of facility.”
New construction on the downtown lots will require building above the 100-year floodplain. Burns asked about the possibility of helping owners with flood mitigation.
“I can see this getting into being a public/private partnership before it’s over with,” he said. “In other words, let’s say if the Housing Authority or this committee was going to raise the property up, to get it ready for the property owners to build back on – can we do that? Because we’re putting money and resources into private property – then it becomes a public/private partnership. Is that possible?”
Burns stressed the need for a good plan.
“Let’s suppose we have to raise all those properties four feet and the property owners come back and say, ‘we can’t afford to do that – we’re just not going to come back,’” he said. “We need to have an offer on the table, to say, ‘well, there is a way that we can fill it for you and rent it back to you or lease it back to you.’ We have to have a plan in place to answer these questions, and I think the longer we dilly-dally around with this thing – I mean, we’ve got an eyesore on Main Street that we’re going to have to live with from now on, and I think we need to address this as quickly as we can.”
Tuggle recommended hiring a firm to prepare a site rehabilitation preliminary plan. The Region IV director estimated the cost of a preliminary plan at upwards of $25,000. Weir said the cost could be as high as $50,000.
Burns said the state government had set aside $8.5 million for a potential levee project in Marlinton and that the task force should request a portion of that money for the redevelopment project. Weir said the GVEDC had approved giving the money back to the state, on Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s request, since the Corps of Engineers does not plan to go forward with the levee project. According to Weir, $600,000 in interest on that money is slated to go to a loan for a Pocahontas County business.
Mutscheller said she had spoken to the Governor about the levee project money.
“With the $8 million, it is essential that we ask for something yesterday,” she said. “I did meet personally with the governor and I spoke to him about the project. He’s awaiting a request.”
“If we got a million or two million dollars of that money, it would be a great start for this project,” said Burns.
Weir expressed confidence that upwards of $50,000 for a preliminary plan could be obtained quickly from state sources. The chairman recommended a meeting with state elected representatives to discuss long-term funding, before the legislative session starts on January 8. Smith said he would arrange the meeting.
Weir stressed the need for public participation in the project and recommended setting up a website, where people can post comments. Mutsheller said the town will create a Rebuild Marlinton website, which will link to the town’s website at townofmarlinton.wv.gov.
Smith said the State Fire Marshal had informed him that a report on the cause of the fire is “forthcoming.” The mayor added that Earl Kessler, of State College, Pennsylvania, a 1938 graduate of Marlinton High School, had donated $200 for task force incidental expenses.
The task force will hold public meetings every other Monday, including December 16 and December 30, at 9 a.m. at the Municipal Building.