September 2, 2011
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The first phases of efforts to revitalize uptown Martinsville are under way.
The contract for the Community Development Block Grant project has been executed and “now, we’re ready to move,” said City Planner Susan McCulloch.
This week, city crews started upgrading the parking lot on Depot Street and the surrounding area. The lot frequently is used by New College Institute (NCI) students and people walking along the nearby City Spur trail, according to city officials.
Depot Street will be “moved over” about 10 to 15 feet to make way for landscaping improvements — including new greenery — and more parking spaces, said Wayne Knox, the city’s director of community development.
Crews are removing trees and rocks in the ground, as well as concrete and wooden islands in the parking lot, to accommodate the improvements which are to start in late September or early October, Knox said.
Twenty-six buildings and vacant lots along Franklin, Jones, Main and Fayette streets have been targeted for improvements as part of the revitalization, which will be done with state and local funds and in-kind contributions.
A meeting is scheduled next week for uptown property owners interested in improving their buildings’ facades to meet with city officials and consultants. The meeting for property owners will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Room 303 at NCI’s King Building on Franklin Street.
“This will be a kickoff meeting to explain to business owners the advantages of renovating their facades” through the block grant program, McCulloch said.
The process of making facade renovations will be discussed, and examples will be provided of property improvements in other communities, she said.
Among those attending will be architects from Hill Studio of Roanoke and engineers from Earth Environmental Consultants of Rocky Mount.
Knox said that while the meeting is aimed at uptown property owners, it is open to the public, and anyone attending will be able to ask city officials and consultants questions about the revitalization effort.
A few weeks after the meeting, architects will start meeting with individual property owners to begin designing facades for them, McCulloch said.
Some uptown property owners already have spruced up their buildings, but that work was done at their own initiative and expense, Knox said.
As part of the block grant project, the city is to receive $691,325 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development plus $654,957 from The Harvest Foundation. The city is making an estimated $1.7 million worth of in-kind contributions to the project.
Property owners can receive as much as $7,500 in state funds per facade toward the cost of improvements. Knox said some buildings may have both front and side exteriors that need upgrading.
If improvements to a facade cost more than that amount, the owner will be responsible for paying the difference, he said.
Examples of improvements could include new awnings, doors, signs, paint, plants and flowers — nothing elaborate, just things that boost appearances and help preserve buildings, Knox said.
Among other improvements planned, vacant lots are to be cleaned up and turned into small “pocket parks” with benches and landscaping.
In-kind contributions to be made by the city include the installation of new crosswalks, street lighting and water lines, said Knox.
The Depot Street work will be covered by Harvest funds, and in order for the city to receive the money, the work must be finished by the end of this year, Knox said. To meet state block grant rules, the other work on the first phase of uptown redevelopment must be done by the end of 2013, he said.
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