By Brandon Martin
Updates on several projects that are underway in the City of Martinsville were presented at a recent city council meeting.
Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki presented updates on projects that include:
Chief Tassel Building
Waukeshaw Development, who previously renovated the Historic Henry Hotel, is heading up the redevelopment project at the Chief Tassel Building, located at 51 East Church Street.
Dave McCormack, representing Waukeshaw during a May 12 meeting, said that his goal is to redevelop the property into 18 residential units on the 2-4 floors, with commercial units on the bottom floor.
“The developers have been in the building and they even have a key,” Towarnicki said. “The architect is working on plans.”
Towarnicki said that the city is in discussions to use funds from the Brownfields Redevelopment Program for environmental cleanup.
That project is now moving forward,” he added. “I don’t have a firm construction schedule on that yet but there is some activity and that project is moving forward.”
Chris Hairston, owner of the C.A. Hairston Companies, LLC, and Martinsville native Shawn Moore were awarded a contract to redevelop the 1 Ellsworth Street property for mixed commercial and residential use. In addition to 50-70 apartments on the upper floors, the city also plans on using space in the building for municipal offices.
“The Industrial Revitalization Fund (IRF) grant application has been submitted to the Department of Housing and Community Development,” Towarnicki said. “It’s probably going to be an October or November timeframe on when we know if we got that grant.”
Towarnicki said that relocating city offices into the building is largely contingent on receipt of the grant.
He added that the developers are looking at putting the financing together and looking at construction plans.
Currently, Towarnicki said the city is conducting a space review of their current offices. Among the factors considered are square footage, offices that the city occupies and the number of employees. That information will be overlaid on the floor plan of the BB&T building’s first floor to see what it would look like.
“For example, we are going to look at council chambers,” Towarnicki said. “How big is this room? How much space do we need? How many conference rooms do we need? What do the office configurations look like?”
He said that the BB&T building is more of a “traditional office building, with an office next to each office,” whereas the current building mostly consists of “individual pods.”
“If you go down into the Finance Department, for example, you’ve got a whole pod down there with offices that kind of open with internal space,” Towarnicki said. “Community Development is the same way. There are half a dozen offices that are kind of in a group and they open into an interior space.”
He said that Hairston and Moore plan on starting the project sometime in early 2021.
Landmark Property Management Company plans to develop property on Aaron Street into multi-family senior housing.
“Their application for the tax credits, that are needed to make that project go forward, was approved,” Towarnicki said. “We are currently working with Draper Aden on plans and specifications for the demolition.”
He added that he expects that it will be in the position of bidding “probably within the next month. So, it’s conceivable that we could see actual demolition work occurring on site within the next 6-8 weeks.”
Once the demolition is finished, Landmark will be looking to begin the redevelopment in the spring of 2021.
The city is currently working on two energy projects. The first –- a shared battery storage project with American Electric Power (AEP) — requires zero capital investment by the city, but will allow it to take advantage of avoided capacity and transmission costs, according to Garrett Cole who works for the city’s electric power supply consultant GDS Associates, Inc.
The second is a solar energy project to also help with rising capacity and transmission costs.
“We are still actually working on the contracts for both of those,” Towarnicki said. “Surprisingly, there are some tax issues related to both of them that we are working our way through. They are relatively minor issues.”
Commonwealth Boulevard Bridge
Construction upgrades have been taking place on a bridge located on Commonwealth Blvd., just below Martinsville High School.
“The work began around March or April,” Towarnicki said. “Work on the inside lanes has been completed. Traffic has been moved to the inside and they are now working on the outside lanes.”
Towarnicki said the project, primarily funded through the Virginia Department of Transportation, is scheduled to be completed in September.
Reservoir Spillway Project
Repairs and renovations to the spillway at the Beaver Creek Reservoir Dam will begin soon.
“Financing was closed late last week,” Towarnicki said. “A notice to proceed has been given to the contractor. They are actually beginning to move into that site.”
He added that the contractors will be using the fireman’s cabin as a construction trailer.
“So, while the cabin can’t be rented for public purposes, the volunteers may generate a little revenue by renting that to the contractor to use for construction,” Towarnicki said.
The window of time for completion is approximately 270 days, according to Towarnicki. “We are looking at a completion sometime around March or April next year, and typically under these types of financing arrangements, debt service begins within six months after completion. We are looking at the debt service on this $2.5 million note beginning sometime in the middle of 2021, probably July or August.”
Towarnicki said that a rate increase was approved in the city’s budget to cover the debt service.
The project could have an impact on those who visit the lake for recreational activities as well.
“During construction, it will be necessary to pull the reservoir level down about four feet,” Towarnicki said. “That may limit access to the lake. I know some people go there and rent kayaks and canoes. Once the elevation is pulled down four feet, the dock may actually be out of the water. I’m not sure what the banks will look like in terms if someone wants to drag a kayak or canoe down into the water. It might be quite muddy so it might not even be possible. Once we know that, we will put some information out to the public so that they are aware of what is going on there.”
TANF Job Assistance Project
Towarnicki said that approximately two years ago, the city applied for a grant to help recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) overcome barriers to employment.
He said that in most cases, these individuals want to work, but can’t for a variety of reasons.
“Maybe they don’t have transportation. Maybe they don’t have the job skills that are needed for a particular job. Maybe they don’t have childcare, but the idea was to provide funding to find those individuals that wanted to work, but again couldn’t for a variety of issues, and to use that grant to help those people find jobs.”
The original $270,000 grant was for 18 months, according to Towarnicki, who added the original goal was to help 50 people.
As of the most recent report, Towarnicki said that the goal had been exceeded by six people. The grant has been extended for another year for another approximately $170,000.
“It’s a good program,” Towarnicki said. “Whatever the issues were that were preventing them from finding gainful employment, were worked out. As a result, there are now at least about 60 people that are working in the community that otherwise would not have been.”
Dick and Willie Trail
An ongoing joint project between the city and county has been the extension of the Dick and Willie Passage from its original end near Mulberry Creek to the Smith River Sports Complex. The most recent completion took place in the city as Section 6B had been constructed.
“The remaining piece on that is to get the pedestrian lane painted in,” Towarnicki said. “That should happen here any day. We finally got signage up at the end of the road. There were some issues about parking. We did put parking in.”
He said the county is working on plans to complete the construction of Section 6A that he hopes to present in detail at the next city council meeting.
“In a nutshell, 6A is all in the county and it doesn’t involve any city property,” Towarncki said. “It’ll begin at the end of the current trail near Mulberry Creek and the idea is to connect it to 6B. Originally it was going to connect down at the trail station on Spruce Street by Mulberry Creek. There was some difficulty in getting property to that point, so a revised plan was created that basically brings 6A into Spruce Street just before you get to Corn Tassel Trail.”
He added that the section will cross Spruce Street and use the sidewalk from there all the way down to the trailhead down at Mulberry Creek.
“There’s going to be some pretty elaborate plans for the crossing,” he said. “It’s going to be an at-grade crossing, not elevated.” Towarnicki said that multiple safety features will be added to warn cars of the new crosswalk.
Hooker Field concession stand upgrades
Towarnicki said that the city worked with the Martinsville Community Recreation Association to obtain grant funds through the Harvest Foundation for the upgrades.
“We are currently working with a local architect on the development of those plans,” he said. “Those plans are about 90-95 percent complete. We hope to get this to a point where we can actually get some firm pricing maybe in the next month and then if we can put the financing together, maybe we can get that project to happen.”
Towarnicki said the project could begin in the late summer or early fall, to have the stand ready for the next baseball season.
An additional project to put coverings over the seats also is in the works, he added.
“If you want to consider the concession building as Phase I, then the covered seating is going to be Phase II,” he said. “The Coastal Playing League had always indicated to us that if we had covered seating then we could host the league All-Star game here which brings people in from all over the place.”