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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Phoenix Fayette Street project on hold
Plan delayed until after new director is hired

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Efforts by the Phoenix Community Development Corp. to develop a new mixed-use building in the Martinsville area have been postponed.

Nancy Spilman, chairman of Phoenix’s board, said Monday the project is “on the backburner” until the nonprofit development organization can hire a new executive director to succeed Ray Gibbs, who recently resigned.

She emphasized that the project has not been canceled.

Phoenix had planned to construct a three-story apartment and office building at the site of a city-owned parking lot on Fayette Street uptown. Gibbs recently said the project was abandoned at that location because after resolving the concerns of nearby businesses, it no longer was affordable.

Phoenix planned to search for other sites so the building potentially could be built, Gibbs has said. Spilman declined to comment on potential sites.

Business people agreed that parking was their overwhelming concern at the Fayette Street site.

Sam Gamble, a principal member of The Sportsman’s Club, said the building’s construction would have significantly reduced the number of parking spaces in the lot.

Also, tenants and visitors at the new building would have used some of the spaces now used by patrons of area business and organizations such as Gamble’s, he said.

The parking lot stays busy in the daytime as it is used by customers of nearby hairdressers and Prillaman’s Market, as well as patients at the Piedmont Virginia Dental Health Foundation’s clinic, Gamble said.

During the proposed building’s estimated 14 to 18-month construction period, he said, there would have been virtually no parking spaces nearby except for a few on the street.

Under plans for the building, many people visiting businesses along Fayette Street would have had to park behind the new building and at the bottom of a hill where a school bus garage is now.

That concerned Louise Schoolfield, owner of Triple S Beauty Salon. She said the distance and the stress of walking up the hill probably would have been too much for many of her customers, especially the elderly ones.

“Right now, everything is convenient” with parking directly across the street, Schoolfield said.

No matter how high the quality of items and services that the businesses along Fayette Street provide, “you wouldn’t walk from the bus garage up here” to get them, said Grady Prillaman of Prillaman’s Market.

Stephen Martin, manager of the Uptown Treasures gift shop, had a different view. He said he would have liked to see the building constructed because he thinks it would have generated new customers for his store and other businesses there.

“I think it (the parking issues) could have been worked out,” he said. “If the city is going to grow, we need to stop shutting off all of our opportunities.”

Years ago, uptown was “the hub of shopping” in the area, Martin recalled.

Now, “people tell me they haven’t been up here in so long,” he said, adding that buildings generally are in good shape and “it’s nice here.”

For that reason, Martin and other merchants said they support ongoing efforts to revitalize Fayette Street and the rest of uptown.

But “why would you want to destroy all the businesses in this area” by taking away parking spaces to build a new building, Gamble said.

With a lack of parking spaces, customers would get used to going somewhere else, and they would not come back, he said.

“I want to keep my business,” Schoolfield said, indicating that might not be the case if parking was taken away.

The Martinsville Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness would have been the proposed building’s main tenant. It is looking for other potential places to move, said Executive Director Barbara Jackman.

The coalition now operates from offices uptown and near Memorial Hospital in Martinsville. It hopes to find a place where it and other organizations with which it collaborates can colocate, Jackman said.

That would “be a benefit to the client to have a one-stop shop,” she said, “instead of having to travel all around town” for health-related services or information.


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