Uptown projects funded

November 7, 2010

Martinsville has received a one-year, $654,957 grant from the Harvest Foundation to enhance parts of uptown and consider uses for other areas there.

Harvest funds will be added to state and local cash and in-kind commitments for a total of about $2 million in uptown improvements around the former Henry County courthouse and nearby Fayette Street, Harvest stated in a news release Friday.

The work comprises phase one of an Uptown Revitalization Plan. It will focus on beautifying the area around the courthouse and improvements to two trailhead parking lots — at Depot Street, near the city’s uptown trail, and what the city is calling the NCI (New College Institute)/Theatreworks parking lot, according to Jeffrey W. Mansour, project manager for Harvest.

The work will include repaving, landscaping, lighting and other features to make them safer and more attractive, he said.

Improvements also are being considered at some gateways coming into the uptown area, Mansour said. Officials with the city, Phoenix Community Development Corp. (PCDC) and the Uptown Management Team have been meeting for several months to identify locations for landscaping, signs and other features, he added.

The grant also will cover getting community input, planning and site assessment for the Baldwin Block, bordered by Fayette and Market streets, and the area behind the former courthouse, the news release stated. (See related story.)

“Those two sites were selected because they are key sites in the Uptown Revitalization Plan,” Mansour said.

Some ideas have been considered for the area behind the former courthouse, including an amphitheater, he said. Community input will be sought to help determine what ideas make sense for that site and “then what design makes sense. If not an amphitheater, then what?” he asked.

Ideas for the Baldwin Block have included a new building for the New College Institute and a West Side community center. But Harvest officials said all options are on the table.

Ideas for the block would go through the same process as the courthouse site, he said, adding that the Baldwin Block is a big plot of land and whatever goes there “has to transform the community and ultimately be economically self-sustaining.”

Mansour said the planning aspects of the grant funds likely will be done quickly, possibly by mid-2011.

But that does not mean a project would be approved then, he said. Officials may decide more time is needed to plan a project or that the market is not ready for a major development, he said.

“People are impatient. They want to see (something) tomorrow.” Mansour said. “It would be a mistake to do something and not succeed. We need to do something that will boost people’s confidence and transform the economy. No single project will do that on its own. It will take a combination” of projects.

This grant is the result of Harvest funding of a community input and planning process started in 2009, the Harvest release stated. That led the city to adopt an Uptown Revitalization Plan and to the establishment of the Phoenix group, it added.

Officials with the city, Harvest and Phoenix all praised the grant and efforts that led to it.

“Uptown revitalization is one of our key strategic priorities, and we are very excited to see these efforts moving forward with the strong collaboration of our city and nonprofit partners,” said Paul Toms, chairman of the Harvest board of directors. “The improvements slated for uptown will make it equally attractive for residents, tourists, merchants and potential investors.”

City Manager Clarence Monday said the announcement is the culmination of the efforts of many people.

“Citizens, community leaders, property owners, merchants and elected officials came together to develop a comprehensive vision for uptown, and this project focuses on initiatives that will continue the transformation of the area’s central business district,” he said. “The city is most appreciative of the Harvest Foundation for its continued commitment to the success of this community.”

Mayor Kim Adkins echoed the city manager’s comments and added, “There is so much potential for business and community development in uptown Martinsville. The support of the Harvest Foundation for these needed enhancements will spark new interest from current and possibly new developers and investors.”

The city will partner in this project with the Phoenix group. Its president, Ray Gibbs, stated that Phoenix officials “appreciate that the city of Martinsville has chosen to partner with PCDC to implement these enhancement projects. We look forward to this as the first of many private/public partnerships with the city over the next several years as we work together to bring new economic activity to both uptown and the city as a whole.”


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