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Armory an issue for voters, too

Residents looking for a light at the end of the tunnel

October 29, 2011
By Sam Shawver ( , The Marietta Times

Marietta's Armory Square project may finally be on track for construction next year, as city council approved advertisement for bids on the project Wednesday. But a final plan with complete details, including what businesses will be located at the facility and how the day-to-day operations of the building will be financed, won't be ironed out for a couple of months.

But local folks say they are still hopeful that these latest developments signal a light at the end of the long tunnel of efforts to save and renovate the historic building in downtown Marietta.

Fifth Street resident Bill McElfresh, who has served on the city's Development Advisory Board, noted plans for the Armory Square project have been in the works for some time.

"In 2003 we completed a city comprehensive plan and one of the primary focal points was the armory," he said. "The plan was developed between 2001 and 2003 and eventually approved by council."

Mayor Michael Mullen said the DAB has not been active for a couple of years now.

"But they did a great job in putting together a strategic plan and the armory was one of the top 10 priorities," Mullen said. "They have laid a nice foundation for us to move forward with the project."

Fact Box

Armory timeline:

The Marietta National Guard Armory was built in 1914.

The Ohio National Guard moved out of the facility in 1992.

The City of Marietta purchased the armory in 1997. Some citizens proposed tearing it down but voters passed a ballot issue, backed by the newly formed Citizens Armory Preservation Society, to put a three-year moratorium on demolition.

March 2009: City council approved a contract for engineering firm Davis Architectural Group of Cambridge to design the renovated Armory Square.

November 2009: Initial construction work on the Armory Square project began on the parking lot, formerly the Becky Thatcher lot.

March 2010: Deed to the Armory property was signed over to Washington-Morgan Community Action for a period of 15 to 20 years so that the city could pursue more than $1 million in state and federal historic preservation tax credits for the Armory Square project.

June 2010: Some redesign work was required on the project, including relocation of the elevator and change in a canopy roof design, in order to qualify for the state historic preservation tax credits.

August 2010: Demolition of armory front steps revealed instability, requiring extra redesign work and a complete rebuilding of the steps and sidewalls.

September 2010: Construction on the Armory Square project is expected to be completed in 2011.

October 2011: Advertisement for construction bids on the Armory Square project is approved by Marietta City Council. Contracts expected to be awarded by the newly-elected council in 2012.

Source: Times archives

"In our recommendations we said the armory project could move forward with a qualified business plan," McElfresh said. "It's interesting that now, in 2011, the city is saying it will take a couple of months to put a final business plan together."

A few doors up the block another Fifth Street resident, Chad Stevens, is hopeful that the Armory Square project will be done soon.

"That building has sat there for a long time now," he said. "I saw they were taking bids, although there are still some unknowns about the business plan. But it looks like they're making progress.

"It's something I would like to see completed as it's located within the central business district of the city," Stevens added. "And I'm always for taking old buildings and fixing them up. But I know raising the money has been an issue."

Stevens said the large space within the armory could be used for many activities and gatherings.

"And the building is located right on the (River Trail) bike path where it would make a nice stop for people using the trail," he said.

Lynn LaBarre, a Warren Street resident, said she just doesn't want to see the building in limbo.

"I'd like to see this project either happen or they should just stop talking about it," she said. "I've seen some work has started outside of the building but would like to see it completed if we can get the money and a couple of good bids.

"I know there's been talk about making the armory a transportation hub, and I think that's a good idea," LaBarre added.

The idea of a transportation hub has been part of the most recent Armory Square business plan, which would include facilities for Lakeshore Bus Lines and the local Community Action Bus Lines.

Fourth Street resident Lori Buckley would like to see more activities planned for Armory Square.

"I'd like to see something more done for young people and seniors there," she said. "There's not much for younger kids to do here in their spare time and the central location would be a good place for senior activities and programs."

Buckley said renovation of the armory could also help bring more business to Marietta as well as keep current businesses in town.

"I think there has been a delay in the project because of funding," she said. "But they need to do the work and get this done. I'm hoping that will be happening soon."

Across town on Warner Street, Susan Kern had some concerns about the armory project.

"My feeling is you don't go forward with something like this unless you have a good business plan in place," she said. "They have a $3 million project but no plan after it's built. How will they pay to heat that building?"

Kern also noted there could be some surprises after construction begins on the facility.

"I live in a very old house and anytime we do a renovation we encounter something we didn't expect," she said. "The front steps of the armory is a good example of that. They've removed the steps and now there's a gaping hole, covered by a flag, that has to be repaired."

When the concrete steps were removed earlier this year, the city engineer discovered the wide stairway had not been built to specifications and would have to be redesigned.

"I'm not anti-armory at all," Kern added. "I just think this project has to be done logically."



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