Uptown work may start this month

July 7, 2011


Martinsville officials hope to get a contract from the state for the first phase of revitalizing uptown Martinsville by the end of this week and possibly start the work by the end of this month, according to a city official.

That is about a month later than the city originally expected, said Wayne Knox, Martinsville’s director of community development.

The delay occurred in part because the 23 properties involved in the revitalization project are in a designated historic district, Knox said.

A lot of the properties have historic significance, either due to the fact that they are 50 years old or more or for architectural reasons, so the state Department of Historic Resources must ensure that it has complete records on the properties, he said.

“They have their own timetable,” Knox added of the department.

Also, Knox said, officials had to make sure the contract with the project’s architects and engineers meets state requirements.

Once the contract arrives, possibly today or Friday, follow-up meetings will be scheduled with uptown property owners involved in the project to refresh them on the procedures, Knox said Wednesday.

The property owners also will schedule appointments with architects from Hill Studio in Roanoke to discuss and draw up plans for the improvements, he said.

Some of those improvements already have been planned, and some may need only slight tweaking, he said, so he hopes work will begin quickly.

Facade improvements will be the first projects people notice, officials said.

The city expects to receive $691,325 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) as well as $654,957 from The Harvest Foundation to spend on the first phase of revitalizing uptown.

The city also is making in-kind contributions to the project for a total of about $1.7 million available for the first phase of revitalization. That phase will focus on the area around the courthouse and Market, Church, Jones and Lester streets.

Exteriors of 23 buildings are targeted for improvements, along with three vacant lots.

Structural improvements could include new awnings, doors and shutters; paint; new plants and flowers; and the installation of new signs — or upgrading existing signs — on the fronts of structures, Knox said.

“It’s not anything extravagant,” he said, “just things to brighten them (buildings) up and help preserve what’s there.”

Vacant lots will be cleaned up and perhaps turned into small “pocket parks” with landscaping and benches, Knox said. Some landscaping may be installed in parking lots to give them a parklike setting, he said.

An uptown revitalization plan presented in February 2010 shows potential improvements to several of the targeted buildings. For example, it shows the orange- and white-paneled building at 2 E. Main St. — what many years ago was C.P. Kearfott’s drug store — could undergo removal of the metal panels to reveal its former brick exterior.

Architects will develop renderings and specifications for improvements based on what property owners want, Knox said.

City Planner Susan McCulloch said the state’s contribution includes $140,000 for the facade improvements, and that amount was based on preliminary, high-end cost estimates for upgrading the targeted properties.

Participating property owners are expected to contribute an equal amount toward the work, she said.

The $691,325 also includes $75,000 for a low-cost loan program to help property owners who want to rejuvenate their properties and can create at least one job as part of the process, McCulloch said.

The rest of the state money is intended for improvements such as parking lot upgrades and new crosswalks, she said.

Under state requirements, the city can provide property owners with state funds up to $7,500 per facade, Knox and McCulloch said. Knox noted that some buildings may have both front and side exteriors that need improving.

If the owners of all 23 buildings get the full $7,500 per facade, that would equal $172,500. Harvest or city funds would have to be used to cover the amount above the $140,000 in state funds if needed, Knox said.

Also, if the improvements an owner decides to make total more than $7,500, the owner will be responsible for paying the difference, he said.

In-kind contributions planned by the city include the installation of new crosswalks, street lighting and water lines, said Knox.

The maximum in state funds available for such a project is $900,000, but that includes interior rehabilitations and larger job creation numbers, so the city did not qualify, he said. The next level of funding available was the $691,325 that the city is receiving, he added.

The state requires that the money be spent in 24 to 30 months, Knox has said.

Landscaping improvements to the front lawn of the old courthouse also will start this summer, he said.

The Garden Club of Virginia is spearheading those improvements, which are to include green space in the center of the lawn and trees placed along the side. The club has declined to say how much the landscaping will cost.

“It will be heavy landscaping ... that is pleasant to look at,” Knox said. Still, there will be plenty of room on the lawn for activities, he said.

The old cannons will remain although they may be moved, Knox added.

Phase 2 of uptown revitalization will involve determining what to do at the vacant Baldwin Block bordering Moss, Church, Market and Fayette streets. Discussions could begin this summer, according to Mayor Kim Adkins.


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