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Hotel options sought
City council asks Phoenix for strategy
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
It’s time for the former Henry Hotel to be redeveloped and taken out of the city’s hands, according to Martinsville City Council members.
On Tuesday night, they asked the Phoenix Community Development Corp., a nonprofit developer involved in trying to redevelop the building uptown, to prepare options.
Three years ago, the city bought the four-story building for $520,000. The Harvest Foundation contributed a $425,000 loan toward the purchase.
Since then, documents show, the city has spent up to about $51,000 a year to provide utilities to tenants — residents who have since moved out as well as a restaurant and insurance agency still there — and to maintain the building and pay debt service to Harvest.
Council members did not specify how much tenants are paying in leases. Some said, though, they think the tenants are getting a bargain.
Spending $50,000 on the building annually is too much for the city, Councilmen Danny Turner and Gene Teague said.
Options they and Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. said they want to see explored include:
• Developing leasing arrangements that are more equitable.
• Preparing a strategy to sell the building so it can be placed back on the city’s tax rolls.
• Creating a plan that lets space in the building be used and the city keep maintaining it, but break even on the expenses.
Reynolds said if a private developer acquires the building and puts it to use in a way that hurts ongoing efforts to redevelop Martinsville’s central business district, “we’ve got another conversation” (problem).
Phoenix Executive Director Ray Gibbs recently told the council he hopes to get the hotel project combined with another project to try to have a better chance of getting tax credits needed for the work.
“Our intention is to put the building back to use” in a way that benefits the city, Gibbs told the council Tuesday. “We don’t care who does it.”
Council members indicated they want Gibbs to report back to them with strategies during their Aug. 14 meeting and give them a progress report during their next session July 24.
Also Tuesday, the council learned from Mark Heath, president/chief executive officer of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), that about 51 percent of the local work force commutes elsewhere daily.
Exact statistics were not provided.
“That’s one of the best selling points we have” to convince companies to locate in the area, Heath said — residents need jobs close to home.
“A lot of jobs are available in our community, quite honestly,” he said. But “we’ve got to better align our training programs” at area schools and higher education institutions to match jobs available in the community.
Mayor Kim Adkins said there seems to be many job opportunities locally in health care.
Heath said that will hold true as the local population ages. He referred to it as “the gray tsunami.”
In June, the EDC worked on 30 business and industry recruitment projects. Sixteen were “active projects” in which company executives had visited the area to view potential sites. The other 14 were “inquiry projects” in which executives from interested companies had not yet visited.
Those are good figures, Heath said, considering that many business people are on vacation during the summer.
Heath usually updates the council on the EDC’s work monthly. Teague asked him to update the council in August on the development of Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, a joint project with Henry County.
“We’re ready” to develop the industrial park near the North Carolina line, but officials are waiting for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a necessary grading permit, Heath said. He added that he does not know why it has not been granted.