The tale of the Armory’s preservation and revival

Editor’s note: The following is part one of a two-part guest column in which one of the players on the ground at the beginning gives his account of the effort to preserve and restore the Armory. Part two will appear next week.

The following is accounting of the 30-year history/evolution of the former Ohio National Guard (ONG) Armory, at 241 Front St.:

“Victory for the people”… and the end of an era. This “victory” is first for the people/citizens of Marietta; second, for the balance of all the other people in Washington County; third for the people in the State of Ohio (especially those of Southeastern Ohio); and last for all of the people in the balance of the whole U.S.A., (especially those from north western West Virginia). The degree of this victory will be based on the intensity of good uses these facilities will provide to the people of our community. Those uses in the indefinite future for ALL of those same will be the test. As was said and practiced by the 1974-75 Marietta Jaycees who were then the #1 best chapter in Ohio and probably the U.S.:

“For any given issue/project, always remember, that it is about “People First, People Last, and People All in Between.” These planned uses were ideally to be “supportive and/or complementary” to all of the existing “uses of our community.” Said another way, the uses put to a revitalized Armory were to be supportive of businesses (private and public) and private individuals plus groups (like the school system, city recreation dept. etc.) and/or complimentary to the entire community, in part or in full. “Complementary” to us meant anything that helped or assisted the people who call or will call Marietta/Washington County home who are doing anything noble (work or play) to try and make their life and those of their families better … in order to achieve a better community … of PEOPLE

Note: “[Business] competition” is to be avoided, as much as is reasonably possible.

Who exactly has been “We the people?” The Armory saga began along about this time of the year in 1989 when the Ohio National Guard decided to change its mission. So together with the State of Ohio the ONG devised the plan to “sell off” most of its then smaller, older, and outmoded Armory building facilities all across the state and then to replace them with larger, newer, more efficient and “centralized” facilities, much like the school systems did in the 1950s and 60s. When this was announced the people in Ohio started to think about whether they had any use and thus interest to buy one of these older Armories. Our state has a prescribed legal procedure to follow when faced with state-owned property dispositions, which basically is: Offered first to other state agencies, then next down to county agencies, then if no takers/buyers yet, the facilities would be offered to the cities where the Armories are located.

Marietta got lucky! And nevermind that the city of Marietta originally donated the land for building an ONG Armory in 1914-15 and that if the building were ever abandoned by the State of Ohio, as is said, then it would revert back to the City of Marietta’s ownership! During the above process Ohio had its real estate appraised. In the early 1990s a designated SRPA appraiser from the Columbus area found from research the fair market value estimate of the 241 Front St. property at $275,000. Do to numerous ownership, political and other legal circumstances, for the ONG and the State of Ohio, a new Amendment to Ohio’s Constitution was enacted to satisfy all the parties involved just so these armories could be sold. Nothing is easy! The net result of this enactment to satisfy was/is to sell to the winning bidders of these Armories at 50 percent of the appraised FMVE. Once Marietta officially decided to buy (back) this property it wrote a check and paid the State of Ohio $137,500. As I recall the deed from Ohio to Marietta for this Armory was recorded in 1996.

So from 1989 through 1996, “We the people = the sparticipants” included all the applicable public and many private people of Marietta were involved, and still are. Of course, Marietta Mayor, then and now, again, Joe Matthews, with his administration plus the eight members of Marietta City Council and its staff were all involved one way or another. In 1990-91 there existed a large school of thought that the mayor with his administration along with the whole city council were unanimously against “saving and using the Armory (building).”

In the early 1990s the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce went on record as being “against”saving this Armory. Back then I think it is fair to say that Armory matters got a little testy! But also as early as 1989 local folks started to try and figure out if it was a good idea and worth it to “save the Armory.” Soon a grass roots group formed. Originally about 10-12 people started meetings. The recently deceased couple of Mrs. Geneva (Neva) and Floyd Keerps were always recognized as being the first and second members of the Save the Armory Movement.

Reverently, Neva was designated as Member #1! They were steadfastly active in this project until their respective demises just a few months ago in 2019. Thus, there have been many people from both the public and private sectors participating and contributing to the success of this most worthwhile community project. A public survey was taken and found that about 80 percent of the people of Washington County wanted this building “saved.” No doubt the biggest change occurring during the life of this project is that in the beginning the Marietta City Council was unanimously “against” the idea of “save the Armory;” and now and recently the council is unanimously “for” “save the Armory.” Also of note is in the 30-year time span the MACC changed its formal position to a “neutral” position. When it comes to local economic development philosophy many of us sure hope the MACC has not been way to aggressive by taking this heart wrenching “neutral” position. One major concept that CAPS learned about the Armory project was this: The more a person learned about all of the pertinent socio-economic aspects of the Armory property, the more they were “for it.”

(To be continued next week.)

Michael McCarthy is past president of the Citizen Armory Preservation Society and now lives in Franklin County, Ohio.


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