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Restoration, redevelopment of Martinsburg B&O Roundhouse 'slowly moving forward'

April 14, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com
  • The exterior of the B&O Roundhouse in Martinsburg, W.Va.
By Matthew Umstead

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — An initiative to restore and redevelop the 19th century Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s roundhouse and shops in Martinsburg has gained more steam in the last few weeks.

A federal grant awarded in 2006 for improvements to the 13.6-acre industrial complex finally can be spent thanks to $35,000 allocations recently approved by Martinsburg City Council and Berkeley County Council.

Both allocations will be used as matching money for the $585,684 federal Surface Transportation grant that the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd announced in 2006.

A previously awarded $50,000 state economic development grant also will be used as matching funds, said Clarence E. Martin III, chairman of the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority.

“We’re slowly moving forward, but we’ll get there,” Martin said Friday of redevelopment efforts that date back to the  authority’s creation in 1999.

The federal grant and matching local funding is to be used to develop plans, obtain bid specifications and build at least one set of restrooms at the complex, which currently has none,  Martin said.

The facilities are to be built between the 16-sided roundhouse and what is known as the “Frog and Switch” building, he said.   Water and sewer lines also need to be extended.

The construction of restroom is a condition of the authority’s new agreement with the West Virginia National Guard to use one of the three buildings for storage.

That agreement, which was reached in January, appears to have spurred city and county officials to make the allocations. Neither government had budgeted the money for the current fiscal year or the 2012-13 year, which begins July 1.

The addition of restrooms will make the property more attractive for hosting events, but Martin said the authority has no intention of again organizing Rail Days or another festival “for the foreseeable future.”

And even after the restroom project is completed, Martin doesn’t know when the authority will be able to set regular hours for public tours of what has been deemed a national historic and civil-engineering landmark.

“It’s hard to tell,” Martin said.

Tours of the unique, cast-iron framed roundhouse and shops are now only available by appointment only.

Meanwhile, the revenue generated from the National Guard agreement is expected to be used to pay off about $400,000 in debt that the authority has accrued in recent years.

The first year of the lease is expected to generate about $97,808, under the agreement. The rate would increase to $117,808 per year after the first 12 months if the National Guard agreed to extend the terms.

The authority’s lease is with Las Vegas-based government contractor TsiCorp.

With the new revenue stream, the authority can pay off a $300,000 loan that BB&T bank originally extended as a line of credit, Martin has said.

General contractor Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. also was owed about $100,000 for the pedestrian bridge that was built to connect the property to the Caperton Train Station.

Since being created by the state Legislature in 1999, the Berkeley County Roundhouse Authority has been awarded about $8.2 million in grants, including the unspent federal and state money, but those funds have been designated for restoring the railroad buildings, Martin has said.

The historic site is where the nation’s first railroad strike began in 1877. The B&O’s original railroad shop complex built there was destroyed by Confederate troops in 1862 during the Civil War.

Mayor George Karos on Thursday night urged city council members to support the allocation, citing the city’s growing investment in the train station, where a children’s museum is expected to open this fall.

By joining the county in support of the authority, Karos said it would show the two governments can work together on an economic investment that will benefit downtown Martinsburg.

The city council’s 6-0 vote Thursday to allocate funding joined a unanimous 5-0 vote on March 29 by the county council. Ward 2 City Councilman Richard Yauger was absent.

Martin said the city and county’s funding decisions are a “big event” for the authority, which previously was unable to convince local government leaders to contribute matching funds for the grant.

“We’ve been trying for five years, and I kept asking myself ‘why,’” Martin said.

More information about the B&O roundhouse and shops in Martinsburg can be found on the Internet at http://www.martinsburgroundhouse.com/

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