NCI plans draw praise

April 8, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The New College Institute’s building plans are generally winning support of area officials.

Both Mayor Kim Adkins and Martinsville City Councilman Danny Turner said they were excited to learn that NCI wants to construct a building on the Baldwin Block. Turner said he would vote for donating the block to the New College.

NCI announced last week that it hopes to build a three-story, approximately 50,000 square-foot building on the block, which borders West Church, Moss, West Market and Fayette streets. The structure would have space for academic programs, community activities and a tribute to the block’s namesake, the late local physician/philanthropist Dr. Dana O. Baldwin, officials have said.

William Wampler, the institute’s executive director, has estimated the building’s cost at $10 million to $15 million.

"It’s a central location,” Adkins said, adding that she thinks the building’s presence uptown would help spur revitalization efforts there and in nearby neighborhoods.

NCI’s mission is to increase the number of area residents with college degrees, and economic developers have said that outcome should help the community attract new businesses and industries. For that reason, the institute itself is “one of the keys to revitalizing our area” economically, Adkins said.

Councilman Gene Teague also was excited to hear about NCI’s proposed building, but he is taking more of a wait-and-see attitude before deciding whether he thinks the council should donate the block to the institute.

NCI’s vision is “to help transform our community” and its building fits that criteria, Teague said. But “that doesn’t mean there are not other things out there that would be transformative” and a good fit for the block.

He said the council first needs to hear from the public about “what other uses might be” relevant for the site.

Virginia Museum of Natural History founder Dr. Noel Boaz is trying to launch a medical school locally. The Baldwin Block has been mentioned as a potential location for that school.

Turner said, though, he thinks other land and/or buildings suitable for a medical school are available in the area.

The public likely will have a chance to comment on the NCI’s plans since the city code requires the city council to hold a public hearing before disposing of any city-owned property.

City Attorney Eric Monday said he knows a corner of the block where a tire store used to be now is city-owned. He was unable to determine Friday if the rest of the block now is owned by the city or the Martinsville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. A hearing is not required when authority-owned property is sold or donated, Monday said.

In seeking money to erect a new building, NCI’s private fundraising entity, the New College Foundation, aims to approach potential sources such as the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and The Harvest Foundation, according to Wampler.

The tobacco commission already was familiar with the project. Last fall, it gave a $200,000 planning grant to the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) to help NCI design a new building and determine how it could be used, said commission Grants Program Director Tim Pfohl.

Plans are for the EDC to move its offices into the new NCI building.

Pfohl recalled that the commission has helped fund past NCI projects and probably would be willing to do so again, especially if other funding sources agree to pay part of the cost.

“Obviously, $15 million buildings are not easy (financial) packages to put together,” Pfohl said.

Harvest traditionally has matched state funds provided to NCI. Its board chairman, Larry Ryder, said Friday, “we would certainly look at that (the building proposal) like we do any” funding requests received.

Like the tobacco commission, how many other funding sources would be involved “will certainly play into the decision” on whether Harvest gives funds for the project, Ryder said.

He emphasized, “We think highly of William (Wampler) and the quality of the work he’s done in the short time he’s been here.”

Wampler assumed the helm of NCI in January. He previously was a longtime state senator who represented the Bristol area and did not seek re-election.

Wampler is expected to discuss plans for the building with the council when it meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. and Councilman Mark Stroud could not be reached for comment Friday.


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