Building projects outlined

November 25, 2010

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The head of the Phoenix Community Development Corp. envisions two prominent uptown buildings being redeveloped for mixed uses, such as offices, stores and living space.

Phoenix, a nonprofit developer involved in uptown revitalization efforts, is studying the former Henry Hotel and Henry-Martinsville Social Services buildings. The latter building also once was a Montgomery Ward department store and later Tultex Corp.’s headquarters.

Ray Gibbs, executive director of Phoenix, discussed the buildings with the Martinsville City Council on Tuesday.

Last fall, the council bought the hotel building, at the corner of East Church and Broad streets, for $520,000 with plans to renovate it as part of uptown revitalization. A total of $95,000 in city funds was put toward the purchase, and the remaining $425,000 was a loan from The Harvest Foundation.

The challenge of redeveloping the building will be that it is long and narrow, said Gibbs. He added that if residences are included in the building, redevelopers will have to find a way to make living spaces unique because the building is not conducive to the loft-style residences often preferred by people living in central business districts.

A structural study of the building is expected to be finished in a few weeks. Then cost estimates for renovations can be sought, he has said.

Gibbs said he anticipates the former social services building “will be a little easier to work with” due to its design. However, he said the challenge with that building will be finding ways to get light into its dark basement.

The building is jointly owned by the city and Henry County.

Councilman Gene Teague asked how soon the community might be able to expect the hotel and social services buildings to be redeveloped. Gibbs said about three years, if prospective tenants can be found and financing can be arranged for upgrades.

Nonprofit developers such as Phoenix often tackle “complicated” projects that “take multi-levels of financing” to be developed — projects that other developers who wish to see quick profits may be reluctant to get involved in, according to Gibbs.

Still, “we want the (uptown redevelopment) projects to be profitable ... not need long-term subsidies to keep them going,” he said.

In redeveloping properties, Phoenix will seek tax credits as well as help from financial institutions and funding sources such as the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Appalachian Regional Commission and Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.

Gibbs said that to use tax credits toward their redevelopment, government-owned buildings would have to be transferred to private owners.

While it eventually may consider revitalization projects in other parts of the area, Phoenix’s first focus is on helping revitalize uptown, he said.

He told the council that he knows of investors who would like to invest in Martinsville, although he did not name them.

Ultimately, though, “if we’re going to revitalize Martinsville, it’s going to have to be done by Martinsville,” Gibbs said.

If local investors are not willing to invest in the community, nobody from elsewhere will, he emphasized.

Teague asked how Phoenix would identify potential tenants of buildings it targets for redevelopment. Gibbs said market analysis will be needed along with finding “some unique niches” to fill as far as business opportunities.

He said Phoenix may have to start some businesses and then turn them over to new owners after they become profitable.

Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. asked how Phoenix will target buildings for redevelopment in the future. Gibbs said ideas will be presented to the real estate committee of the organization’s board for consideration.

Depending on available resources, however, he said Phoenix may not be able to immediately tackle future projects it identifies.

Uptown business owners want to talk with Phoenix staff about ideas they have for revitalizing the business district, said Councilman Mark Stroud.

Gibbs, who has been with Phoenix since June, said he recently has focused on getting the organization up and running. He said he has talked with some business owners and is eager to talk with others.

Earlier this month, Gibbs told the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s board that he thinks one-way streets uptown need to be converted to two-way in order to help lure people to the district.

He told the council Tuesday that “traffic patterns are something that need to be dealt with ... but it’s not the No. 1 thing on my agenda.”


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