B&O roundhouse in Martinsburg, W.Va remains unfinished after about $8 million in grants invested

$3 million or $4 million needed to keep three primary buildings open year round

July 02, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin toured the B&O roundhouse and shop buildings in Martinsburg last week. In the interior of the main building, bird feces and feathers could be found.
By Matthew Umstead

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — When acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin toured the B&O roundhouse and shop buildings in Martinsburg last week, weeds wrapped around ankles on the grounds off East Martin Street.

Bird feces and feathers were inside the cluster of red-brick buildings where the nation's first railroad strike began in the 1870s. And more than one pane of window glass was broken.

Jacqueline A. Proctor, Tomblin's communications director, confirmed the governor's private, unannounced visit in an emailed statement, but made no mention of the conditions when she was asked for his impressions of the site where Confederate troops burned the original facilities in 1862.

"The governor was very appreciative of his tour of the roundhouse, having never seen it before," Proctor said Friday. "He was encouraged by the work that has been done and expressed his encouragement that the community continue to do their work and find new and good uses for the roundhouse."

Proctor said Tomblin could not speak to the immediate economic impact of the complex, but noted "many communities across the state have worked long and hard to restore historic buildings, using them as centerpieces for community events and activities."

Finding a new use for the old industrial site along Tuscarora Creek has proved to be a daunting task for the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority, the public corporation created in 1999 to preserve, restore and redevelop the 13.6-acre property.

Attorney Clarence E. "CEM" Martin, who has led the authority's efforts for the last 12 years, readily admits he is frustrated that the project remains unfinished after about $8 million in grants have been invested in bricks-and-mortar work at the site.

Martin estimated that another $3 million or $4 million is needed to keep the three primary buildings on the property open year round, if only on a limited basis.

The West Roundhouse, along with the Frog & Switch and Bridge & Machine shop buildings that flank the 16-sided structure, have doors that do not shut tightly. There are no restrooms or heating, cooling and fire suppression systems in any of the buildings, and flooring also is needed.

Tours of the property only are available by appointment because the roundhouse authority has no operating revenue to pay staff or promote tours, Martin said. The authority also has been unable to make payments on an outstanding loan it obtained from BB&T Bank, Martin said. The bank initially provided a line of credit to the authority, but the obligation later was converted to a loan, which Martin confirmed was about $300,000.  

The authority still has grant money to use for some of the capital improvement work, but lacks matching money to draw down the funding, Martin said. In order to net tax credits available to such a redevelopment project, all of the capital improvements must first be completed, Martin said.  

Earlier this year, the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau's board chose not to approve a proposed memorandum of understanding with the authority to help them promote events at the complex, Martin said.

At the end of the day, Martin bristles at those in the community who have criticized the lack of progress.

"If these people are so ... concerned, why aren't they volunteering to help," Martin said.

Given the situation, Martin concedes the authority is at the point where it is running out of options. He is working to organize a meeting of all potentially interested parties — local, state and federal officials, along with private interests — to brainstorm and map out the roundhouse project's future.

"We need to put all the pieces of the pie together," Martin said.

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