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W.Va. tourism bureau considers relocation

November 30, 1999|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? The oldest continually operating train station in the United States opposite the historic B&O Roundhouse affords a tremendous amount of ambiance and charm for Andrea Ball, director of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

What the restored station off East Martin Street doesn't offer, however, is high visibility and easy access for tourists traveling through the community, particularly Interstate 81 travelers, Ball said in an interview last week.

"By the time they have gotten to us, they've already gone through town," said Ball, who said the CVB's board of directors has formed a committee to explore the possibility of relocating to a venue with a higher profile.

A decision is expected by June, in advance of the CVB's September lease expiration date with the City of Martinsburg, Ball said.

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Tucked away on the railroad track side of the train station at 229 E. Martin St., Ball said the agency also is somewhat constrained by the historic building itself because the bureau has expanded its scope of operations.

Last year, Ball estimated the CVB's visitors center received about 5,500 tourists, a number she believes would increase significantly if the agency was able to find a new location closer to I-81

Though the CVB staff has experienced a few unpleasant encounters with transients and mice in the bureau's six years at the station, Ball said staff too often have heard from visitors, "I didn't know you were down here."

City Manager Mark Baldwin last week said the CVB's presence downtown brings visitors to the historic district, and hopes the agency does not move out of downtown Martinsburg.

Until moving to the train station, the bureau previously was located in the city square at the corner of South Queen and East King streets.

The decision on whether to relocate comes amid ongoing efforts to redevelop the historic Roundhouse complex. A pedestrian bridge that will link a new addition of the historic train station to the historic property tentatively is set to be put in place on March 24, Baldwin said.

Though also neighboring a notable Civil War historic site, the Charles Town Visitors Center in the community's downtown district across from the Jefferson County Courthouse attracted only 3,600 visitors last year, said Paulette Sprinkle, Ball's counterpart at the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Contracted by the City of Charles Town to operate the city's visitors center, Sprinkle said her staff is moving forward this year with plans to offer special events at the center, including musical performances and items for sale not offered by local merchants.

Though somewhat lacking in ambiance and charm, visibility at Jefferson County's visitors center trailer along U.S. 340 near the entrance to Harpers Ferry (W.Va.) National Historical Park is not a concern for Sprinkle.

"There is no other place in Jefferson County that has (higher) visibility" than this location, Sprinkle said.

Jefferson County has maintained a presence along U.S. 340 since the 1970s, and the numbers of tourists since then has ranged between 60,000 and more than 100,000, depending on a number of factors, Sprinkle said.

"This is a major entrance to the state of West Virginia," Sprinkle said.

Sprinkle said a state Department of Transportation official told her that a 1999 study showed that about 30,000 vehicles travel on U.S. 340 each day. Sprinkle said the same report indicated 45,000 vehicles travel on I-81 through Berkeley County.

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