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Martinsburg aims to shape up downtown

December 16, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Saying downtown Martinsburg is turning a corner in revitalization efforts, city officials on Thursday announced a variety of low-interest loans, tax credits and other funding programs intended to spur investment in downtown properties.

City officials announced the incentives in a newly renovated 99-year-old home at 216 W. Race St.

There are scores of historic homes in the Race Street, Spring Street and John Street areas that could be showplaces if they were bought and renovated, said Kitty DiPanfilo, who bought the house in which the announcement was made.

DiPanfilo and her husband, Bob, along with another couple, received a $10,000 low-interest loan from the West Virginia Housing Authority to renovate the two-story, frame house.

Interest rates on the renovation loans are 6 percent and closing costs are "almost nothing," said Gordon Claucherty, one of the other people who shared in the purchase of the house.

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About 20 people, including historical experts, city building inspectors, city council members and others gathered in the living room of the house for the announcement.

The house was finished with attractive wall designs and wallpaper and refinished hardwood floors.

"This is a great example of all the potential in this downtown area. There are just a lot of great buys waiting on investors," said Martinsburg City Council member Glenville Twigg.

The loans are one of two programs available to investors interested in taking over buildings downtown, officials said.

Main Street Martinsburg, the organization in charge of promoting downtown, is helping coordinate a low-interest loan program for renovation of commercial buildings in Martinsburg, according to Doug Montgomery, spokesman for the organization.

The program was developed when seven banks in the area agreed to put money into a pool for low-interest loans, Montgomery said. To be eligible for the money, property owners must be members of Main Street Martinsburg, Montgomery said.

The minimum loan that can be granted under the program is $5,000 and the maximum is $25,000, Montgomery said.

The interest rate on each loan will be two points below the prime lending rate that is listed in the Wall Street Journal the day the loan agreement is signed, Montgomery said. The loans are for renovation of commercial properties, although the funds can also be used for residential units attached to commercial buildings, such as apartments, according to Montgomery.

The City of Martinsburg is offering an interest-free sidewalk loan program to downtown property owners, said Mike Covell, city planner and engineer for the city.

If a property owner has a deteriorating sidewalk outside a home or building, the city will loan money for repair of the sidewalk, Covell said. The property owner is responsible for hiring a contractor to do the work. When the project is completed, Covell's office must inspect the job.

If the job passes inspection, Covell's office issues a check for the work to the contractor, and the homeowner pays back the loan to the city, according to city building inspector Darby Dean.

Finally, homeowners and business owners can receive up to a 20 percent state tax break for renovating historic properties. Businesses can also get up to a 20 percent break on their federal taxes for such work, said Katherine Jordan, survey and National Register coordinator for the state Historic Preservation Office.

DiPanfilo's house is in an area that has been marred by drug trafficking over the years, but she said the neighborhood is full of attractive homes that can mark a new beginning for downtown.

"There are a lot of buildings like this in this neighborhood that can be renovated and should be renovated," DiPanfilo said.

More information on the incentive programs can be obtained by calling Main Street Martinsburg at 1-304-262-4200.

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