MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Removing the last “boogieman” to redeveloping the historic Interwoven Mills hosiery complex in Martinsburg could be helped by a new federal tax incentive designed to encourage private investors to make capital investments in economically depressed areas and the city’s openness to a private-public partnership, a consultant said Friday.
The Martinsburg City Council on Thursday voted to retain Sustainable Strategies DC and Environmental Resources & Consulting to help the city build on work already done to revitalize the 14-building site off West King Street and a string of other largely vacant industrial properties in the city through a $400,000 Environmental Protection Agency brownfield grant that was secured about two years ago.
The city council also voted to pay Sustainable Strategies a $5,000 flat fee to prepare a strategic plan to promote investment in a large swath of Martinsburg where private investors can qualify for a tax break by investing in real estate or business as a result of the 2017 tax-cuts bill.
Three “Qualified Opportunity Zones” in Martinsburg, along with similarly designated areas in Morgan and Jefferson counties, are among 55 statewide that were announced in May by Gov. Jim Justice and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
The U.S. Treasury Department-certified opportunity zones in Martinsburg overlap three census tracts and include areas along Winchester Avenue, North Raleigh, Queen and King streets. The Interwoven Mills complex, Thorn Lumber property, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad roundhouse and adjoining shops, Perfection Garment building and Matthews Foundry all are within the city’s opportunity zones, Sustainable Strategies CEO Matt Ward said Friday.
The city council’s vote came the day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council to help channel federal funding into low-income, economically distressed areas, including the newly designated opportunity zones.
The executive order in part directs the interagency council to evaluate whether and how an array of federal agencies are able to prioritize support for economically distressed areas via grants, financing and other assistance. It also provides for considering whether and how these zones could be used as possible locations for federal buildings through consulting with the General Services Administration.
Analysis done through the EPA brownfield funding led a team of consultants to conclude that a niche, 100-plus room hotel could anchor a redevelopment project for the Interwoven Mills property.
No pollution issues were identified to prohibit re-use of the 14-building site off West King Street. But Ward said Friday that the boogieman, or barrier to investment, that still remains at the Interwoven Mills property is deterioration of the structures themselves. The current condition of the rooftops of the buildings and the need to remove asbestos material in the structures stands to drive up the cost of a mixed-use project there, Ward said.
Despite the property’s blighted condition, Ward said there has been no shortage of interest in it.
“We’ve now had four investors make serious inquiries,” Ward said.
Discussions with one of the parties about revitalizing the property are expected to continue into 2019, Ward said.
Interest in the property has been fueled, at least in part, by the state legislature’s move last year to increase the tax credit available to developers when redeveloping historic structures, Ward said.
The total state and federal tax credit now available is 45 percent of approved rehabilitation costs, which would be a substantial benefit for a $25 million project, Ward said.
The sprawling complex of about 7.1 acres extends from the 600 block of West King Street to south of West John Street. Once regarded as the world’s largest men’s sock-producing operation, the plant started in the 1890s and closed in the 1970s, according to historical accounts.
Ward said it will take time to revitalize the Interwoven Mills and other targeted industrial sites in the city, but added that Martinsburg already has made “tremendous progress” through the EPA brownfield funded-work that was done.
“We’re going to make it happen in Martinsburg,” Ward said.