In a move to promote economic development in our community, Elkins City Council voted at a recent meeting to authorize a Request for Proposals (RFP) for construction of a parking building and hotel complex on the vacant lot behind city hall.
The lot was acquired in the 1990s having housed the Elkins Convalescent Hospital, the former Memorial General Hospital, and before that, the upscale Randolph Hotel. The project harkens back to memories of the past and is in complete alignment with the development of the travel/convention/entertainment industry in Elkins. The proposal will go a long way in complementing the development of what is a revitalization of the historic downtown.
The focus of commercial activity, which characterized the original establishment of the old Western Maryland Railroad Yards, promises to re-emerge. The move toward a Main Street Program has the potential to bring this about. It is in an exciting prospect for the future.
In its review and recommendation of the project to Council, the Municipal Property Committee, chaired by Councilwoman Nanci Bross-Fregonara with members Councilmen Jim Bibey and Bob Woolwine, set the parameters for the new facility.
Included within the suggested guidelines for development of the property were that it contain 80 to150 rooms, a meeting space of 5,000 to 7,500 square feet, a parking garage with .50 to .75 spaces per guest, plus additional parking accommodations for city hall employees and the public.
The guidelines also identified a number of other amenities including a fine dining restaurant, a swimming pool, a business center, a fitness center and a gift shop.
It also was directed that the hotel be part of an upscale national chain and, to the extent possible, that it reflect the style covenants of the Randolph County Development Authority projects in the old railyard. The structure also should conform to the historic character of the Downtown Elkins National Historic District of which it will be a part.
The Municipal Property Committee suggested a construction start time after closing of 18-24 months.
Several questions have been posed as to why the city should want to dispose of the property. There are a number of reasons. First, and perhaps foremost, is that the city should not be involved in holding property out of production. Any property held and unused hinders our community's economic development opportunities. When jobs can be created, we should not keep property out of the market.
Some have suggested to me that we should retain that property for future expansion of city government. Folks, we don't need more government. If somebody at some future date thinks it would be wise for whatever reason to expand the government, then they should be responsible for acquisition of the land to do so. Quite frankly I believe we don't need expanded government. We just need to make what we have more efficient and effective.
Others have been concerned about the Mountain State Forest Festival's use of this property, and that is a very valid concern. The city will be working closely with the Forest Festival Association to meet its needs. There are a number of possibilities in the railyard, streets and adjacent areas, or possibly the parks that space could be made available. We will ensure that every effort is made to accommodate the festival's long tradition in Elkins.
There also have been concerns about senior center parking and these too could be addressed as part of the process in the development of this project.
In addition, a major advantage of a parking facility/hotel complex is that with proper planning and management the needs of both the senior center and the downtown revitalization effort can be taken into account. The close proximity of the proposed complex will make a significantly expanded pedestrian and tourist access to downtown merchants.
Restaurants, specialty stores, gas stations and general stores are all close to the proposed site. These should see significantly increased patronage as a result of the project.
Our two premier tourist attractions, the American Mountain Theatre and the excursion trains operating out of the old Western Maryland Depot, are within easy walking distance. At the present time, both of these attractions are significantly limited in reaching their full potential because of the absence of proper accommodations close at hand.
This project will greatly enhance our downtown and contribute significantly to its redevelopment. This will be particularly noteworthy as we move from the ON-TRAC program to a full-scale Main Street Program.
Potential revenue from the project would significantly help to fund the Main Street Program and other downtown improvement projects. In addition, with proper arrangements, potential revenue could be forthcoming to support the Depot Welcome Center and to assure its continued operation and contribution to downtown commercial activities.
The development of a parking garage/hotel complex in the downtown area has tremendous potential for significant economic expansion for our area. I commend the Council for its unanimous support of the RFP to determine if this project is feasible.