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Martinsburg panel balks at Roundhouse funding request

October 11, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Leaders of the group formed to restore the historic B&O Roundhouse property for reuse in Martinsburg did not get a financial commitment they wanted from city leaders who cited other pressing needs in the growing community.

Though awarded about $8 million in grants for building capital improvements and a pedestrian bridge to the former railroad's maintenance shop, Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority chairman Clarence E. "CEM" Martin told a city council committee Wednesday that the authority's volunteer board was "struggling to keep the doors open" and requested $50,000 for operations and maintenance.

Rail Days, the Roundhouse Authority's annual fundraiser, netted about $10,000 this year, which amounted to less than half of the salary for the state-created board's only employee, Martin said.

After significant discussion by Budget and Finance Committee members Max Parkinson, Roger Lewis, Gregg Wachtel and committee chair Richard Yauger, a motion made by Wachtel to recommend the Roundhouse Authority be granted half the amount requested died for lack of a second.

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Councilwoman Shari Persad and Mayor George Karos also attended the meeting. Councilman Donald Anderson was absent.

"We're not broke, but we have to plan for the future," Karos told Martin.

While describing himself as a "strong supporter" of the Roundhouse project, Karos said that his top priority for the city was completing the extension of Raleigh Street to Edwin Miller Boulevard, followed by commitments to expand City Hall and construction of an EMS/police facility in the city west of Interstate 81.

"I think you caught us at a bad time," Karos said.

Councilman Max Parkinson recalled growing up in the neighborhood across Tuscarora Creek from the Roundhouse and was supportive of the authority's effort, but questioned how the city could afford the additional expense in lieu of the city's "massive growth."

In presenting the Roundhouse Authority's request, Martin noted that the millions of dollars in contracting work already done on the Roundhouse property likely had generated thousands of dollars in business and occupation taxes for the city, which he thanked for providing in-kind service.

Martin said the city's financial support for operations would allow the Authority to generate even more tax revenue and assure private foundations inclined to contribute to the project that it is worthwhile and has local support.

Martin said the outcome of a $1.5 million grant application that would basically finish work on the Bridge and Machine Shop building could be known within the next 60 days. Illuminated signage for the roundhouse building also is being installed, he said.

The pedestrian bridge connecting the property to the city's train station is nearing the "punch list" stage of completion, Martin said.

"We are slowly, but surely ... inching our way forward with this project," Martin said.

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