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City council reconsiders roundhouse decision

December 14, 1997

City council reconsiders roundhouse decision

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Martinsburg City Council has voted to stay in the Main Street program and to take a second look at turning the B&O roundhouse into a civic center.

"We need a full-time Main Street director, an experienced and trained person," said Councilman Merle Butts, who introduced the motion to continue the program.

Butts' motion, which passed on a 4-3 vote Thursday, called for the city to provide the director with office space and support services.

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As the vote indicated, the council was divided about whether the city should continue with Main Street Martinsburg Inc. The state had told the city it had to decide by Dec. 31 whether to hire a paid director, a requirement for the program.

"This board recently said we weren't going to hire another director," said Councilman Donald Anderson.

Councilman Max Parkinson, who backed the hiring of another director, said Main Street Martinsburg Inc. could be successful in partnership with an association of downtown merchants and property owners.

Downtown businessman Blaine Smiley has been working for the past several weeks to create an association to assume the responsibility of mapping a redevelopment strategy for the downtown.

"I made it very clear I wanted nothing from you," Smiley told the council after its decision. He said the association was the best route to take and that "Main Street had accomplished nothing" during the previous five years.

The nonprofit Main Street Inc. opened the way for businesses to get grants and loans from the state for renovating properties. Architect Matthew Grove submitted petitions to preserve both the Main Street program and a hoped-for civic center at the B&O roundhouse.

The 19th-century railroad roundhouse is owned by CSX, with developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor having an option to buy the property. Last month he asked the city to take over the option.

Grove told the council the cost of buying the property would be approximately $200,000 and said the city should have accepted the option.

A motion to assume the option to buy died without a second at the Nov. 13 meeting of the council. Parkinson said the offer from Chatfield-Taylor was "buy tonight or lose your option to buy ... our backs were against the wall."

Councilman Glenville Twigg said the project could cost $16 million or more to develop into a civic center. He said a number of questions had to be answered before the city could make the decision to buy the buildings.

Grove said the board made the decision without having seen a $60,000 feasibility study it had authorized several months ago. He said the project could by become a major source of tourist revenue and help revitalize the downtown.

The architect said the city could access state and federal funding for its development if it bought the roundhouse.

The council voted to schedule a meeting with the consultants doing the feasibility study to review the report's conclusions.

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