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State, county working on way to keep visitors center open

October 18, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - An effort to keep a visitors center near Harpers Ferry open - which hit a roadblock earlier this year - is looking more promising.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation and the Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau are working out a lease agreement that would allow the visitors bureau to take over the land where the visitors center is located, Ronnie Marcus, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, told the Jefferson County Commission Thursday.

Marcus said he is hopeful the convention and visitors bureau will either be able to move into the current building at the site or build a new center on the site.

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The Convention and Visitors Bureau is negotiating a lease agreement with the Department of Transportation because the state agency owns the land, which is along U.S. 340 across from the entrance to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

In past years, the state Division of Tourism operated a visitors center in a building on the property by leasing space from Cedar Images Inc., which owns the building.

In June of last year, Victoria Drumheller, who owns part of Cedar Images, decided to double the rent for the visitor's center from $150 to $300.

Because of the rent increase, as well as lack of handicapped accessibility and the lack of a fire escape in the building, the state Department of Tourism said it would close the center.

Since then, tourism-related businesses and local governments have joined forces to keep the visitors center open.

The County Commission wanted to buy the building from Drumheller and turn it over to the Convention and Visitor's Bureau. The commissioners said they made a generous offer for the building, but Drumheller turned it down.

Because the lease for the visitors center is no longer in effect, the Department of Transportation has told Drumheller she needs to remove her building, said Randy Epperly, deputy state highway engineer.

Epperly said the Department of Transportation wrote Drumheller a letter telling her she needed to remove her building, but there has been no response.

Drumheller said Thursday she wants to keep the building there and continue to lease part of it for tourism purposes.

Drumheller said the lease she had with the Division of Tourism stated that she would never have to move the building unless U.S. 340 was widened or unless the Legislature did not have money for tourism.

"We're quite mystified," said Drumheller, who added her lawyers are talking to Department of Transportation officials about the matter.

"We think they are pretty ungrateful at this point," Drumheller said.

If a new building has to be built at the site for a visitors center, there are possible funding sources at the state and county level for the project, Marcus said.

Considering it is in a high-visibility area and close to tourist attractions like Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Marcus and other business owners affiliated with the county's tourism business have said it is vital to keep a visitors center at the site.

The visitors center is getting about 2,500 visitors a week, Marcus said.

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