By Callie Hietala
Eight structures in Martinsville are currently being advertised for demolition bids, a building and zoning official told Martinsville City Council at its regular meeting Tuesday.
The structures currently out for bid are 403 Clearview Drive, 326 Clift Street, 538 Dillard Street, 550 Dillard Street, 17 High Street, 210 Holt Street, 127 North Beaver Street, and 210 Park Street.
Chris Bridges also showed council members his office’s master list for demolition candidates, which includes an estimated 113 structures, both commercial and residential, though Bridges said the work of his office is primarily residential. He said the list changes as properties are either taken care of or demolished.
“This is just to show that these buildings are out there and we know it,” he explained.
Bridges said his office has implemented a priority rating system for structures on the watch list. Structures are rated A, B, C, or D, with A being the highest priority for demolition and D being the lowest.
‘A’ candidates are structures with one or more issues including fire damage (with no insurance), open and unsecure against public entry, structural failure with possible danger of collapse, and/or unlikely to be economically feasible to repair.
‘B’ candidates are those with a history of complaints, fire damage (with insurance), are vacant and boarded, and/or exterior repair issues.
‘C’ and ‘D’ candidates have a history of complaints, 5-years or more of decline and trending downward, value to neighborhood if lost, and/or are currently reasonable to repair.
He listed several commercial structures with A, A+, and B ratings: Gibraltar Lodge at 1129 Chatham Heights Road (A), a tractor shop at 3 Railroad Street (B), two garages at 103 and 105 Railroad Street (A+ and A, respectively), a fish market at 710 Fayette Street (A+), Ku Wat at 714 Fayette Street (A), and Paradise Inn at 802 Fayette Street (A+).
Information provided in a PowerPoint to council showed that, in 2021, the city conducted 15 demolitions, six of which were due to code enforcement. Of those, none were paid for by the city.
“Typically, about half of all the demolitions that happen in the city, we are involved in in some shape or form due to code enforcement, and about half or less than that the city has to pay for,” he said.
Bridges said that, for his office to get involved with a structure, his team has to be able to see the violation from the right of way, unless they are granted entry to the property. Police or firefighters can call them into a structure. He said his team cannot go to extraordinary measures to see the violations.
Bridges suggested other considerations could be given to how properties slated for demolition are handled, depending on the situation. For example, if a property has delinquent taxes and no payment plan, the city might consider acquiring the property and reuse it for future development rather than placing a lien on it.
Chamber of Commerce
Council members also heard a presentation from Lisa Watkins of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce. She said that, since the onset of the pandemic, her staff has helped local businesses access $4.6 million in funding “and we’re continuing to do that,” particularly as COVID relief funds begin to dwindle and the applicant pool becomes more competitive.
The chamber’s Startup and Grow MHC programs, two small business development competitions, brought in 62 applicants this year, she said. Of the total, 26 were selected and Startup business plans were recently submitted. In the 6-years since the programs began, there has been an 86 percent success rate. The programs also have generated $3.5 million in capital investment and created 109 jobs.
The program’s audience is diverse, Watkins said, as she distributed a handout breaking down the demographics of the total participation in the Startup program. According to the information provided, 53 percent of Startup participants are Black, 43 percent are white, 51 percent are male and 48 percent are female. Of those participating in the Grow program, 42 percent are Black, 53 percent are white, and 5 percent are Latinx.
Since the pandemic, “we have had 27 new offerings in the uptown business footprint,” which included three expansions of current businesses and 24 new businesses, she said.
Council member Danny Turner said years ago, “it was obvious that the donation that was made to the EDC (Economic Development Corporation) wasn’t benefiting Martinsville in the way that we hoped it would.” The city “redirected the money and you have made great use of it. I think this is a great testament of money well spent … we’ve gotten a good return on that money.”
Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles said she was part of the vote to redirect money from the EDC to the chamber during her first term on council. The decision was a difficult and controversial one, “but you put your money where your mouth is and you’ve done what you needed to do. You don’t just talk the talk, you walk the walk.”
In other matters, the council:
*Approved the minutes from the March 8 and March 22 council meetings.
*Recognized city employees eligible for service awards. They are Joshua Setliff (5 years), Brandon McAlexander (5 years), Margie Woods (5 years), Karen Roberts (10 years), Dina Davis (10 years), Kathryn Dodson (10 years), Amanda Shoup (10 years), Robert Jones (20 years), Cynthia Carson (20 years), Shannon Agee (20 years), Kimberly Boyd (20 years), Michael Scaffidi (30 years), and City Manager Leon Towarnicki (40 years).
*Read and presented a proclamation recognizing April 2022 as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
*Read a proclamation recognizing April 2022 as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the City of Martinsville
*Read and presented a proclamation recognizing the week of April 10-16, 2022 as National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.
*Approved a resolution celebrating April as Fair Housing Month.
*Heard and update from Next P.L.A.N Athletics (NPA) on the Martinsville Mustangs. The city has contracted with NPA for management services for the 2022 season.
*Authorized city staff to execute an option agreement in the amount of $5,000 with Martinsville Methodist Properties, Inc. for the possible acquisition of the former American of Martinsville
Furniture plant at the corner of Depot and Lester Streets for potential reuse. The agreement provides the Martinsville Redevelopment and Housing Authority with an 18-month option to purchase the property for a cost to be negotiated later.
*Approved the consent agenda.
*Towarnicki told council members that city staff would summarize the results of the city’s online survey and email correspondence regarding ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding to present to council, likely at its next meeting. He said the city hoped to provide recommendations on the formation of a committee tasked with determining uses for the funds at that next meeting as well.