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Plan to restore W.Va. roundhouse agreed upon

March 31, 2001

Plan to restore W.Va. roundhouse agreed upon



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Leaders of the effort to restore the historic B&O Railroad Roundhouse have accepted a consultant's plan to develop the 13-acre site and could begin providing activities there by this time next year.

Although finishing touches will be applied to the plan before the Roundhouse Authority approves it, Authority Treasurer Richard Paden said it provides a comprehensive, realistic and in-depth framework for bringing a site that dates from the mid-1800s into the 21st century.

"It was at one point and will be again the focal point of this community," Paden said. "This is the blueprint we will use."

Development will be made one careful step at a time, building support and raising money for the project, said Roundhouse Authority President Clarence E. Martin.

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"It's obviously a phased project," Martin said.

"The project should proceed on a cautious, cash in, cash out basis, never developing too much too fast," wrote Toronto-based consultant Janis Barlow. Her plan calls for four phases between now and 2010.

Local leaders have been involved for three years in the first phase, preserving, protecting and stabilizing the old Roundhouse that served as a garage for locomotives. Three adjacent buildings are also being preserved.

They've raised $2.1 million to preserve the structures and need about $1 million to $1.4 million more. But enough work has been done that the Authority is recruiting an executive director to help move into the coming phases.

Leaders also are seeking researchers who can provide the academic underpinnings for the two major events on which the Roundhouse's future will likely be built. The events are Stonewall Jackson's raid on the locomotives in 1861 and the crucial role it played in the Civil War and the nation's first labor strike that started at the site in 1877.

"We have to do a lot of research," Paden said. "We have to establish the credibility of Jackson's raid. We have to establish the credibility of the labor strike - 'this is what happened' not 'this is what my grandmother told me.' "

A key next step will be community access. The consultant's report said the site should be made into an "urban fairground - raw, covered and open space for festivals, fairs, consumer shows, special events, environmental drama and entertainment - to generate interest, income, pedestrian traffic and regional user groups."

"We have to have our local community buy into the pride," Paden said.

He said the local community includes the region - the Shenandoah Valley, Hagerstown and places outside the city and county.

"We have to have support of this up and down the Shenandoah Valley," he said. "It was the center of the region. It's the reason Martinsburg is what it is today."

That phase is pegged to last from 2001 to 2004, blending into the 2005-06 "enhancement phase," where officials build on the efforts already made and prepare for the final phase. The final phase will realize "ultimate vision" of a national historic attraction being built between 2005 and 2010.

The final phase could include one "core historic attraction/theme" that would be the hub, plus specific site interpretation, a rotating exhibit area, related museums and interpretation areas and support activities such as parking, food service and visitor information, Barlow's report said.

Paden said a vital part will be giving people something they want to visit.

"This should evolve into a must-see attraction," he said. "The main thing is service - serving the visitors. It's not going to be based on what we have to offer; it's going to be based on what do people need."

Money will be crucial. To date, grants and public money have paid all the costs.

Over the years, the amount of contributed income will decrease to about 30 percent while earned income such as from retail and office space planned for the site will increase to 70 percent.

Paden said if the money is raised in the coming months to get the buildings ready for the future, the facility should have no trouble attracting numerous exhibits and other activities as early as next year.

"We're moving on a lot of different fronts," Martin said.

"We have a lot of work to do," Paden said. "But next year at this time, by March 15, we should have something in there."

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