West Virginia downtowns in dire need of redevelopment and revitalization are getting much needed aid through the Downtown Appalachia Redevelopment Initiative.

The Initiative works to transform vacant, decaying, and/or underutilized properties into thriving business centers, mixed-use retail and housing complexes, community facilities, and other cultural assets.

In order to receive technical assistance, applicants must be an individual, organization, or business that is currently engaged in—or intends to engage in—the redevelopment of an eligible project. Eligible projects must transform a property into a desirable place to live, work, play, or visit.

The Initiative, which was kicked off about a year ago and runs through 2021, was created by the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIFund) in partnership with the Brownfields Assistance Center at West Virginia University. It has been involved with six development projects to date. Program Lead Ray Moeller pointed out that ten more project engagements are imminent, and about 50 projects are in the pipeline for potential consideration.

The three-year project is federally funded through the Appalachian Regional Commission POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) and Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation grants. This $1.715 million in funding provides coordinated investments in communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and other industry decline. Additionally, NCIFund has committed to raising $3 million in matching funds and expects total leveraged funding to reach $12 million.

In the Works

Ultimately, the Initiative hopes to address the daunting challenges of redevelopment.

According to a recent Initiative press release: “Grand historic buildings often suffer from structural issues—older apartment building may have outdated floor plans and insufficient safety systems. Some sites are plagued with environmental contaminants. The required cleanup upgrades and retrofitting can be costly and difficult to finance, due to low appraisals or rents. The planning process can be difficult and cost-prohibitive.”

One such Initiative project coming to fruition is on Main Street in Thomas, West Virginia.

“The Initiative provided much-needed and timely predevelopment technical assistance for a specific mixed-use development project in downtown Thomas,” said Emily Wilson-Hauger, of Woodlands Development Group. “In that specific instance, it provided the assistance to complete a required piece of a funding proposal application for development costs. The DA Initiative will provide significant support to our work as Woodlands continues to try to address rural downtown redevelopment challenges within our north-central West Virginia service area.”

Moeller added, “This particular building in Thomas had to be torn down. Thomas is a historic town, and the new building will be designed and constructed in a fashion so that it blends in with the historic buildings around it. It will be a commercial and community space on the street level, and much-needed affordable apartments for the workforce in the Thomas area on the upper levels.”

Another project in the works is in Marlinton, West Virginia.

“As a small business striving to make a go of it in a very rural setting, the potential of expanding our business footprint was daunting,” said Angela Hoffman, of the Almost Local Business Hub and MindEase Solutions, which provides personal and business solutions services, including a shared office space building in downtown Marlinton. “The early technical assistance provided by the Downtown Appalachia Initiative has definitely provided clarity as to the feasibility and viability of our project.”

Projects will be funded on a first-come, first-served basis, and will be assessed on their potential for impact, said Moeller.

— Applicants interested in receiving assistance and/or project financing should contact Moeller at raymond.moeller@mail.wvu.edu, or call 304-293-0390.

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