Council rejects purchase of roundhouse property

July 17, 1998


Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - After listening for more than an hour to promises of support for redevelopment of the historic roundhouse buildings, the Martinsburg City Council voted 5-2 against buying the property Thursday night.

The five "no" votes prompted criticism from the supporter-packed council chambers, where people lined both walls and spilled out into the hallway.

"I hope you all remember this come election time," one man shouted.

"What is wrong with you people? No vision," a woman yelled.

Glenville L. Twigg, Oden L. Barrett, Max G. Parkinson, Donald T. Anderson and Merle "B.I." Butts voted against spending $340,000 to purchase an option to buy the CSX-owned property from developer Moncure Chatfield-Taylor. Richard L. Yauger and George Karos voted in favor of the purchase.


The vote came following the presentation of a special committee report on possible uses for the property and funding feasibility requested by the council.

Many of the area's federal and state representatives - including U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. - offered words of support for the project, delivered in person, through representatives and in letter form.

Calling the property unique and valuable, representatives from the W.Va. State Historic Preservation Office and National Trust for Historic Preservation offered help in finding funding sources and getting state and federal tax credits.

A divided council

But the promises of support and talk of possible funding sources weren't enough to satisfy the five council members, who said after the meeting that they were looking out for the interests of all the city's residents in voting against a project that could hurt the city financially.

"We still as a council have to answer to the city as a whole, not 150 or 250 historical people," said Parkinson, who, like the others, was troubled by the lack of guarantees.

A professional feasibility study for the property's redevelopment estimated the cost at $17 million, he said.

Even if it received grants, Parkinson said the city would probably have to spend a minimum of $2 million to $3 million for the renovation project and $200,000 to $300,000 a year in subsidies for its operation.

Anderson said that since the committee was formed he'd been talking to people on the street about the project and found only one person, a nonresident, who supported it. Many of the negative responses came from former railroad employees, he said.

All five dissenting council members said they supported a roundhouse project but not at the city's burden.

Yauger said he was very disappointed by the council's vote because of the property's potential and the project's benefit to the city.

He said he didn't see it as a financial drain because it could be done in increments over a decade or more as the city received funding.

Karos said the committee's report answered the many questions he had about the project last fall and the words of support Thursday night reinforced his decision to vote for the purchase.

Last year, the council commissioned an architectural and engineering study of the buildings to determine if it was feasible to renovate the buildings into a civic center from the Hillier Group of Washington, D.C.

In November, the council passed up an offer to buy the option from Chatfield-Taylor, who at the time said he only wanted to recoup his original cost plus his expenses, including a fence, building maintenance and needed roof work, totaling roughly $200,000.

Yauger made a motion that the council take the offer, but none of his fellow council members seconded it.

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