MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A DC-based revitalization consulting firm has been working closely with Martinsburg officials to revitalize several abandoned, historic properties throughout the city.
On December 13, the Martinsburg City Council voted to continue a partnership with Sustainable Strategies DC with the help of a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grant. A brownfield grant allows communities to assess, clean and find sustainable solutions to reuse properties.
In addition to the brownfield grant, the May designation of three “Qualified Opportunity Zones” in Martinsburg could further prompt growth. Properties within those zones include Interwoven Mills, the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Roundhouse and the former Perfection Garment complex along Winchester Avenue.
“With that comes a market analysis study for those sights that we also presented back in the summertime with Sustainable Strategies,” said Martinsburg City Manager Mark Baldwin. “It’s brought about interest from private parties of being able to re-utilize and that’s key. So we have the brownfields grant, we have the environmentals done and we have the market analysis.”
Strategic Strategies DC CEO Matt Ward said during an interview on MetroNews affiliate WEPM’s “Panhandle Live” now that the right tools are in place, it is his firm’s turn to develop plans for the properties.
“We help communities come up with strategies for revitalizing and help them get the resources, grants, incentives and other kinds of funding that can help turn these places around.”
The largest of the properties currently in Ward’s portfolio is what is known as the historic Interwoven Mills. The 8 acre site is bordered by King Street, West John Street, Winchester and Porter Avenues. Most of the 14 structures were constructed in 1890 and opened as Middlesex Knitting Company. According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, several name changes followed before it’s final namesake of Interwoven Mills.
For decades, the plant was known as the largest producer of men’s hosiery. It survived the Great Depression and manufactured socks for World War II soldiers. It wasn’t until 1976 when the doors would close on the sprawling factory, only to remain shuttered for several decades. While the building has remained mostly abandoned, aside from a few business attempts in portions of the building, Ward and the City of Martinsburg believe it still has tons of potential.
“We have these places in Martinsburg that have been abandoned. These are beautiful, iconic buildings. They’re in prime, downtown locations and neighborhoods on Main Streets. Why hasn’t the market worked to turn them back into something better and into more productive uses? It’s because of market barriers, I sometimes call them boogiemen that scare away investors and developers.”
Examples of market barriers include rehabilitation costs, concerns of asbestos or other pollution and the quality of the surrounding infrastructure.
“For all we know it could have been badly polluted and unsafe to reuse. We are very pleased that (by) using Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grant dollars, and working with environmental experts, we don’t think it’s that polluted. We have reports, we have plans, we have cost estimates…it can be handled.”
Ward adds the redevelopment options are limitless and all involved are open to a variety of options.
“It could be an exciting campus for high-tech research and development, commercial, restaurant, housing on the upper levels and we’ve looked at all of those things. We brought in environmental consultants, we brought in architects, we brought in re-use planners and market experts.”
“We’ve gotten many bites,” said Ward. “There are several developers, there are business owners that see the potential for Interwoven and are in active discussions with Martinsburg. We’re still in the stage of confidential negotiations and deal-making, if you will, to see what kind of public-private partnership makes sense.”
At the Martinsburg Roundhouse, Strategic Strategies proposes a civic center-type complex including an idea to add around 2,400 seats in the large West Roundhouse. Other amenities could include a farmers’ market and meeting rooms inside of the former bridge and machine shop north of the West Roundhouse.
The former Thorn Lumber site along the Raleigh Street exchange could also be the site of pad sites for other commercial endeavors.
While there is still plenty of work to do before plans can come to fruition, Martinsburg Mayor George Karos is excited about the potential Berkeley County’s seat in the middle of the growing Eastern Panhandle could have with these projects.
“It’s an ongoing positive thing to end the year, so to speak. Hopefully we’ll have that ongoing discussion more and more where the city can get involved and what we can do as far as grants and things of that sort.”
Sustainable Strategies has also worked with Charles Town, Huntington and Morgantown. They also currently working on plans for the former Weirton Steel site in Hancock County.