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Visitor's center in Charles Town wins applause

March 19, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Turning the first floor of the C. Broadway Rouss Memorial Hall into a visitors center would be a "great launching place" for tourists coming to learn about Charles Town's history and also could serve as an arts center, city officials said Monday night.

Mayor Randy Hilton said he thinks a visitors center is needed to capitalize on Charles Town's vast history.

Apart from a brochure that shows visitors how to take a walking tour of the town's attractions, tourists are largely on their own when discovering the town, said Hilton.

"For visitors, you may be able to find a walking guide in some shops, but there's not really anyone here to guide you," Hilton said at Charles Town's City Council meeting.

Hilton is also proposing that the Jefferson County Arts and Humanities Alliance be allowed to locate in the building to showcase artwork.

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Hilton said local cities like Martinsburg, W.Va., and Berkeley Springs, W.Va., have realized how important it is to promote art as part of their efforts to attract visitors to the town.

Hilton is "right on target" with his idea for the visitors center, but the city must determine how it will pay for it, said John McIlroy, chairman of the Charles Town Building Commission, which owns the building.

The Charles Town Building Commission is an agency whose legal obligation is to hold ownership of city buildings.

By the time expenses like operating costs and insurance are determined, it would cost more than $1,000 a month to run the visitors center, said McIlroy.

A portion of the city's hotel and motel tax could help pay for the center, said Hilton. Currently, the city is required to send $25,000 in hotel and motel tax revenues to a county visitors center, said City Manager Jane Arnett. The money could go to the city's visitors center if it is developed, said Arnett.

Council members voted to refer the proposal to the council's finance committee and street committee for consideration.

The C. Broadway Rouss Memorial Hall used to be the location of the Independent Volunteer Fire Co. It was named after C. Broadway Rouss, a multi-millionaire during the mid-1800s who often donated money for projects.

Rouss donated $1,500 for the construction of the hall in 1896.

Under an agreement worked out between First Charles Town Group and the Charles Town Building Commission, First Charles Town Group will renovate the hall in return for being allowed to use the two top floors, said Hilton.

First Charles Town Group began renovating the hall last September, and council members gave Peter Chakmakian, president of Charles Town Group, a standing ovation Monday night for his work on the building.

"It's literally going to be a showplace for us," said McIlroy.

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