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Harvest: Others must lead on hotel
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville and Phoenix Community Development Corp. officials should talk about redevelopment possibilities for the former Henry Hotel uptown before The Harvest Foundation enters the discussion, a foundation official said Monday.
Harvest wants to offer its assistance if it is sought because supporting projects that boost the community’s vitality is a major component of its work, according to Executive Director Allyson Rothrock.
But “it’s not The Harvest Foundation’s duty to lead the discussion,” she said.
Rather, the foundation could help find partners to become involved in the building’s revitalization, she said.
“We’re not a real estate developer,” Rothrock said. “That isn’t our direct mission.”
The city bought the four-story former hotel at the corner of Broad and East Church streets at a public auction in 2009 for $425,000. It used $95,000 of its own funds, and Harvest provided a loan to cover the rest.
Since then, the city has spent about $55,000 a year to maintain the building and provide utilities to tenants, including former residents and a restaurant and insurance office that still are there. Some council members have complained that amount is too much.
City officials have said that within four to six months, they want to resolve the issue of how to redevelop the building. They recently decided to pursue talks with Harvest and Phoenix.
The city, as the building’s owner, and Phoenix, a nonprofit developer taking part in the project, should be responsible for implementing plans they decide upon, Rothrock said.
“We have two very capable entities” that can find options for redeveloping the building, she said.
Phoenix was launched in 2009 with support from Harvest.
“It has very high-level (intelligent) board members ... who want to make the right decisions” because they are serious about wanting to do what is right for the community, Rothrock said. “I’d rely heavily on their suggestions.”
Public input also should be accepted, she said.
Formed 10 years ago, Harvest invests proceeds from the sale of Memorial Hospital in Martinsville in health, education and community vitality projects. The foundation so far has given more than $74 million in grants.
Yet redevelopment involves more than just dollars.
“You could stroke (write) checks all day long and if nothing else happens” toward the project, Rothrock said, “it’s money down the drain.”
Ultimately, “the more partners who are involved” — financially or otherwise — in revamping the former hotel, “the more meaningful the project” will be because it will better reflect what the overall community wants, she said.
“Nothing else matters” but what is best for the community, she stressed.
City officials would like Phoenix to take the title to the building but Ray Gibbs, executive director of Phoenix, has said it cannot afford to now.
“I wouldn’t encourage any entity to engage in any type of financial transaction it could not afford,” Rothrock said. “It’s bad business.”