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Grand plans shared for underground museum

November 30, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

An underground museum being proposed for the National Park Service adjacent to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park would include a tramway to take visitors up to its mountainside location and would cost about $250 million to build, a local official familiar with the project said Sunday.

Tourists visiting the museum would park their vehicles in the park's current parking lot along U.S. 340 and then ride the tramway to the museum, said Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson.

The parking lot would be expanded to handle the new attraction, said Tabb, who attended a meeting last Wednesday at U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd's office, where Byrd was briefed on the proposal.

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At least three parcels stretching across at least 500 acres would be set aside for the museum, including the former Old Standard Quarry, which was considered earlier in the year for a controversial $250 million office and hotel project.

Tabb supported that proposal, but said he sees advantages in the new plan.

Although the jobs associated with the museum would probably not be as good as the jobs associated with the proposed office project, the advantage to the museum is that it would not take property off the county's tax rolls, Tabb said.

"That's the plus I see for this whole thing," Tabb said Sunday.

The property would be taken off the tax rolls if it was built by the federal government, officials have said.

Tabb said he supports the project as long as it does not turn into a way to expand Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

"Then you'll see me coming out totally against it," Tabb said.

The office space and hotel project initially proposed for the former Old Standard Quarry was seen as a way to bring high-paying jobs to the county, but it was criticized for being too close to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and being a threat to the county's heritage tourism.

A group of developers known as Stonewall Heights LLC is now working to purchase the quarry from local developers Herb Jonkers, Gene Capriotti, Lee Snyder and others who had been involved in the first proposal, said Bradley Gray, a member of the Stonewall Heights group.

Other property also is being purchased for the museum, and the proposal would replace the controversial Benview housing subdivision and a residential development that were planned at the site of the current Harpers Ferry Flea Market along U.S. 340, Tabb said.

The flea market probably still would be replaced by the museum project, but a popular fruit stand at the market might remain in the vicinity, Tabb said.

Charles Town attorney J. Michael Cassell, who represented the developers on the first proposal, declined Sunday to comment on how the museum affects the flea market or the proposed Benview subdivision.

When news broke of the proposed museum last week, parties involved in the project were surprised because it was still in its early stages, Cassell said.

"It's premature to (talk) about it," Cassell said Sunday.

Parties involved in the development of the museum have an option to purchase the properties to be used for it, Tabb said.

The next step in the process will be waiting to see if Byrd will find federal money for the museum, Tabb said.

Stonewall Heights LLC proposes to build the museum and lease it to the park service, Gray said.

The hotel at the site would be built with private money, Tabb said.

The museum's construction would employ "green" architecture, which refers to designs that greatly reduce energy consumption.

Tony Redman, a county planning official who briefed the commissioners on the museum last Thursday, said the museum would be a "Dutch-based" design that includes an atrium at the top of the structure. Air would be pulled into the building to cool it, said Redman.

"This thing goes off the charts is the way the architects explain it," Redman said.

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