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Facade improvement grant aids uptown
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Businesses such as those at 23 Fayette St. have taken advantage of a grant for facade improvements, and work either is underway or planned on some other properties. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Several businesses have taken advantage of a grant for facade improvements, and work either is underway or planned on some other properties.

City officials are hoping for even more participation in the program.

Susan McCulloch, Martinsville’s community planner, said work has been completed on properties at 28 and 63-66 Fayette St.; 30 and 40 W. Main St., 6 E. Main and 44 Franklin St.

Renovations are underway at 61 Fayette St., she said. Bids were awarded Monday for Phase II of the project, with work expected soon on properties at 27 and 37 Jones St.; 12, 20, 21-23, 25, 26 and 31 Fayette St., 68 W. Main St., 38 Franklin St. and 4 East Main St., she said Tuesday to a group gathered for an update on facade renovations on several uptown businesses.

Wayne Knox, Martinsville’s director of community development and project manager of the Community Development Block Grant program that is funded by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, said now that the first phase of facade work is completed, progress on the project has been slower than many would have liked. That is partly because some businesses have been reluctant to participate for a variety of reasons, he said.

However, the program is gaining momentum, he said.

The city’s ultimate goal is to renovate 23 storefronts in several areas of Martinsville, and Knox said he hopes other businesses in areas of Fayette and Main streets and around the former Henry County courthouse will take advantage of the project that offers a “Forgivable Loan Program,” in which the owner contributes a $5,000 in-kind or cash match for the $5,000 grant for facade work, according McCulloch.

To help with those costs, some properties may qualify for an up to $2,500 grant from Phoenix Community Development Corp., McCulloch said.

Lisa Fultz, director of the Small, Minority & Entrepreneurial Division of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., said marketing grants also may be available through her office. Other funding opportunities exist in the EDC’s Office of Tourism, overseen by Jennifer Doss, Fultz said.

In the past when visitors were sent uptown, some returned to the Visitor Center due to a “fear of the unknown,” Doss said. But attractive buildings and well-lit streets add aesthetic value while encouraging visitors to venture out in areas of the city.

“Tourism is important to our residents and economic development as a whole,” Doss said, and added that tourism accounts for an influx of $62 million to the community each year.

Mervyn and Virginia King were among the participating property owners who spoke at the meeting.

The grant program is a “tremendous success” with improved properties and streets as well as increased property values, Mervyn King said. “I think this is a great program.”

Debbie Hall, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society, said the Historic Henry County Courthouse also is participating in the project, with work to be completed on the front lawn and sidewalk and the six parking spaces in front of the courthouse to be eliminated. The parking will be replaced with a more “squared-off area” for deliveries and the like, she said.

When completed, Hall said the improvements will showcase the courthouse, and the facility “will really be a focal point for uptown.”

Future projects in other phases of the project include new ramps, crosswalks and street lights in various areas of Martinsville, a “roundabout” (a circle) at the Depot Street trailhead and “pocket parks” known as Terrace Park and College Park, officials said.

Terrace Park covers three uptown properties, according to Lizz Stanley, director of Gateway Streetscape. The areas were considered to be blighted areas by the state, and Stanley said the goal was to create a plan to “integrate a once blighted area into what is going on around it” such as the new New College Institute and medical school facilities.

The main level of the garden will include a “tower garden” which will use vertical rather than horizontal planting techniques, Stanley said. Other levels will include an apothecary garden filled with plants that were used for healing and a mini-community garden, with dwarf fruit and other trees, she added.

Those parks will be portable, with plants and containers/fixtures disassembled and moved to a new location as easements on the properties expire and/or space is needed to build on, according to Stanley and McCulloch.

College Park will be near NCI and will formal and permanent, according to Stanley, who said she will work with members of the Boys & Girls Clubs on those projects.

Also within the next 60 days, members of city council are expected to receive informational packets for renovations to the Henry Hotel, Knox said, and added that he has had many questions about the status of the Henry Hotel, which the city bought at an auction several years ago.

“Yes, it will be fixed. Yes, it will be renovated and yes, it will be great,” he said. When all of the improvements are completed, “I think Martinsville is really going to pop.”

 

 
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