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Visitors bureau planning move to new city spot

August 23, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The space may be more than 150 years old, but Bob O'Connor is excited about the future site of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The visitors center is currently in the Boarman House, built in 1803. O'Connor, executive director of the visitors bureau, said he hopes the office will open in its new site in the old Berkeley Hotel, across from the Roundhouse, by this time next year.

Since the nearby Blue Ridge Outlets closed several years ago, O'Connor said the center's site at the Boarman, at the intersection of Queen and King streets, is no longer the best place from which to assist visitors.

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The Roundhouse will be what draws people to Martinsburg, he said.

"In my mind, and this may sound a little exaggerated, the Roundhouse is our Inner Harbor on a smaller scale," O'Connor said. "We need to be right at the center of everything that's happening."

Visitors will be able to pick up brochures and buy items such as T-shirts, mugs, postcards, maps and other items in a renovated first-floor area. A ticket window, used when trains drove Martinsburg's economy, will remain intact.

Offices for O'Connor and the rest of his staff will be on the fifth floor of the old hotel, which is adjacent to the Caperton Train Station and about two blocks from the Boarman. A balcony overlooks the tracks and Roundhouse complex.

O'Connor said the center's space in the hotel, which is owned by the City of Martinsburg, is bigger than the current space and will be less expensive than rent at the Boarman.

Many who stayed at the circa-1849 hotel in its heyday were railroad workers, because Martinsburg was 100 miles from Baltimore. Railroad employees could only work 100 miles a day, O'Connor said.

When the Roundhouse becomes Martinsburg's "magnet attraction" - a given in O'Connor's opinion - all of Martinsburg will benefit, he said. He predicted more restaurants will open, and visitors will shop at downtown businesses and tour smaller attractions such as the Belle Boyd House, the Apollo Civic Theatre, the future Berkeley County Historical Society Genealogy Center, and the Gen. Adam Stephen House and Triple Brick Museum.

"It's like throwing a rock in a pond. We don't have that rock in the pond, so we don't have the waves coming out," he said. "The possibilities are endless."

Although he said he does not possess nearly the amount of historical knowledge as some, O'Connor can relate a good tale that offers a hint of Martinsburg's past. From the rail workers' strike of 1877 to the destruction of the Roundhouse complex by Confederate Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in 1861, O'Connor believes many are not aware of Martinsburg's importance.

"There's just a lot to be told here," he said.

In the new location, visitors center officials plan to complete the Washington Heritage Trail Interpretive Center, which will highlight many of those stories, along with George Washington's involvement in the Eastern Panhandle.

While O'Connor guessed that around 20,000 people come to the visitors center each year, he said he knows that more than 1 million people have logged onto the center's Web site in the last year.

Roundhouse officials are renovating the complex using a number of grants, and are seeking another $6.8 million from the state Economic Development Grant Committee to continue restoration and lay new bricks on Martin Street, among other projects. A pedestrian bridge will be built over the tracks and a new access road for cars is in the works, said Roundhouse Authority Chairman Clarence E. "CEM" Martin III.

If the complex becomes the national and international tourism destination point he envisions, Martin said 700 to 900 jobs could be created in the Panhandle.

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