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April 8, 2013

Monday, April 8, 2013 (The Martinsville Bulletin)

The Virginia Downtown Development Association has given Martinsville an Award of Excellence for improvements to the uptown business district.

The award recognizes improvements the city made near Depot Street, the walking trail and the TheatreWorks building to better connect the area to the rest of uptown, said city Director of Community Development Wayne Knox.

Those improvements, according to Knox and the city's application for the award, included a refurbished parking lot near TheatreWorks and a new mural on the building; new staircases to help people get up a slope; and new lights, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, landscaping, benches, picnic tables and trash cans.

The "comfort station" - restroom building - and adjacent water fountains, including one for pets, also were among the improvements. The application noted that the station was designed to resemble a train depot because the trail used to be a railroad line.

After the trail was developed, a gazebo, sign and information kiosk were installed in the area along with shrubbery.

"But there was no connectivity from uptown to the trailhead, and no ‘you have arrived' feeling once people got there," the application stated.

There was a steep embankment near the parking lot, which had worn-out paving. Stairs leading to Franklin Street were steep and long. There was no easily visible entrance to the lot for cars and pedestrians, and little lighting, according to the application.

Basically, the lot was convenient for trail users but was not appealing "in its bare bones condition" to people visiting nearby places such as TheatreWorks, the New College Institute (NCI) and the heritage center and museum in the former courthouse, the application stated.

In the application, officials with NCI and TheatreWorks said the upgrades have made the area safer and more appealing to visitors.

The award was presented to city officials during a luncheon in Petersburg on Thursday. It affirms that "a lot of pieces have been put together" by many people and organizations to help improve the business district, Knox said.

The application shows the total cost of the improvements was $559,603.

Of that total, The Harvest Foundation's contribution of $346,596 was the largest share, followed by an in-kind contribution estimated at $132,714 by city employees who handled tasks such as lighting installation, according to the application.

"You can put it (ideas) on paper, but people have to do the work," Knox said.

Gateway Streetscape Foundation volunteers did much of the landscaping work, Knox noted.

Other funds were contributed by the Virginia Department of Transportation, Tunnels-to-Towers Foundation, Activate Martinsville Henry County, Phoenix Community Development Corp. and Gateway.

Ongoing work to make uptown look better includes facade improvements to buildings and efforts to refurbish the former Henry Hotel, Knox said.

Also, he said, the city plans to soon start negotiating with contractors to make improvements to the street in front of the former courthouse.

Link to article with picture: http://www.martinsvillebulletin.com/article.cfm?ID=37223