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Martinsburg gets high marks from WVU survey group

December 13, 2000

Martinsburg gets high marks from WVU survey group



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - On first impression, this city looks pretty good.

That's the conclusion of five people who spent four to five hours poking around Martinsburg anonymously this summer, getting a feel for the town as they visited for the first time. They were volunteers working with West Virginia University's First Impressions program, run through the University Extension Service. Berneice Collis of Minghini's General Contractors, Inc., paid for the program to visit the city.

"One of the visitors said Martinsburg was a wonderful secret they had just discovered," said Alison Hanham, director of the program. About 25 local business people and others attended her morning briefing.

Hanham, one of the five visitors, noted this was not the first of these visits she had made.

"I've gone to many a small town in West Virginia where I've really struggled to find something positive to say," she told the gathering. She didn't have that trouble here, she said.

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Among the assets cited were the renovated downtown buildings, appealing residential areas, and the commitment to the city's heritage and culture.

Among the drawbacks: sprawl along the I-81 corridor, strip development along the outskirts of town, some traffic congestion and vacant or underdeveloped buildings.

The visitors praised the many signs that help visitors get around town, but said a more welcoming atmosphere is needed at the entrances to town.

"There's nothing to welcome you or invite you to look around," Hanham said of one visitor's impression.

The "striking architecture" of the town, including the B&O Railroad Roundhouse and the churches, also was mentioned.

The history and architecture are key foundations on which the city can build, the leaders said.

"You should tie your future to something that doesn't change, your history, your heritage, your architecture," said state House Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley.

The report suggested an economic revival strategy to attract compatible businesses.

"It seems like we have a lot, we just need to tie it together," said Becky Linton, president of the board of Main Street Martinsburg working to improve downtown.

City officials and others said they are working on some of the negative impressions and can easily deal with others. They said they are aggressively enforcing city codes, forcing property owners to at least bring their buildings up to code. This is complicated by out-of-state property owners, some of whom don't care, city officials said.

"I'm real pleased with the points that have been made," said City Manager Mark Baldwin. "The negatives are all real minor and can be worked on quickly."

"People (in other areas) would die for our problems," Linton said.

"We're really working on a lot of these areas," Collis said. "This is a whole lot better evaluation than I thought our city would receive. I feel comfortable now when visitors come into Martinsburg that we won't be perceived as a backwoods community where nobody cares."

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