Members of PRO and volunteers were busy this morning cleaning out the building directly adjacent to the Tucker County Bank Building on First Street. While there is a lot of work to be done, the initial process of getting the building ready to be rented is underway! Check out these pictures that show what is quickly being cleaned out. We will continue to share the progress of this project as it happens. Say hi as you pass the site right on First Street!
A few weeks have passed since our last blog post. The weather has begun to get a bit more like spring, and Parsons ON TRAC is in the process of undergoing a bit of a change. After consulting with the state ON TRAC office and several members of both organizations, Parsons ON TRAC is going to merge with the Parsons Revitalization Organization (PRO) so that the people and resources of each group can work together towards the goal of revitalizing the city of Parsons.
What does this merge mean to you? Well, absolutely nothing has changed regarding either groups’ mission. The goal of both remains bringing people and businesses into Parsons, maintaining and improving the appearance of buildings and storefronts in downtown, and working with local groups on community development projects. By working as one, PRO and ON TRAC has access to the experience of PRO (established and active since 2001) and the state resources of ON TRAC (including membership in the West Virginia Non-Profit Association, GrantStation, and participation in statewide training). Combining these resources will allow PRO/ON TRAC to do more and reach more people.
There are two big changes about PRO/ON TRAC. One is the name. PRO/ON TRAC is a bit unwieldy. To simplify things, we are going to work on phasing out the use of “ON TRAC” in the main title of the organization. There are several reasons for this. ON TRAC is an acronym created by the state that stands for Organization, Training, Revitalization, and Capacity. This acronym does not have anything to do with the city of Parsons and is hard to explain to new members – ON stands for Organization? In this case, yes. As you can see – it is not that clear. Also, the label ON TRAC does not have a local connection with the town like PRO does. This is our organization – not the state’s. While the state gives assistance, we want to promote the fact that it is the people of Parsons, people living right here (not in Charleston), that will be doing the work to improve Parsons’s downtown. Many ON TRAC communities throughout the state have dropped the ON TRAC from their names in order to emphasize the local community’s ownership of their organization. For example, Wheeling’s ON TRAC program is called Downtown Wheeling, Inc. Parkersburg’s ON TRAC organization is called Downtown PKB. This change will take some getting used to, but we believe it is the right thing for the organization in order to help it move forward and take initiative on local projects.
In order to explain it better, we are working with a few phrases that describe how PRO and ON TRAC are connected, as follows:
Parsons Revitalization Organization (PRO) represents the community development and downtown revitalization efforts Parsons, a West Virginia ON TRAC community.
PRO is a member a West Virginia ON TRAC.
The second big change is the implementation of the Main Street Four Point Approach. Past blog posts have described the four ON TRAC volunteer committees: Organization, Economic Restructuring, Design, and Promotions. This division of PRO into committees will make it easier for members to work on projects that they feel deeply about. For example, one of the projects that the Organization committee is working on is the maintenance of the Tucker County Bank Building. This committee has commissioned a new front step (to replace the old one) and will oversee its installation. The Promotions committee is working on several projects with ArtSpring (the annual county-wide High Mountain Arts festival), including organizing and overseeing an exhibit in Heritage House during the Memorial Day arts festival. By dividing into committees, members of PRO and volunteers can decide what they want to work on and focus on it. Meetings will be shortened and made more efficient. Instead of one meeting that must tackle issues ranging from building insurance to event planning to administrative tasks to marketing to business strategies, each committee will meet on its own time and work out issues as they individually apply. If you have any questions about the committees, would like to figure out which one is right for you, or anything else about this new change, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call at 304.478.6009. We would love to answer any questions that you may have.
Another change with PRO is the implementation of a $5/year suggested member donation. As discussed in our most recent meeting, this suggested donation will allow for the creation of an updated list of active members, making it much easier to keep members who are invested in projects informed. We plan to provide a annual party or some kind of token for the public from these funds.
We recognize that these are some big changes. But, they will help this organization function more efficiently, increase its scope of work to the entire city of Parsons, and give members more freedom to work on projects they are truly passionate about. Work plans for each committee outlining specific projects will be available in the beginning of April. Change does not happen overnight. Our Facebook page and or email address are still labeled Parsons ON TRAC, and it may take a while to incorporate all these changes across the many channels of communication we utilize. We hope that you will accept the changes we are implementing and will be patient as the many aspects of this organization transform into what is best for the people of Parsons.
If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to email us at email@example.com or give us a call at 304.478.6009. Thank you for your understanding and continued support of revitalizing Parsons’s downtown! Look for posts describing some of our new projects in the next few weeks.
The last of our four volunteer committees is the Economic Restructuring Committee. This group deals with the business aspect of downtown. Members study the economic situation of Main Street and work to improve economic activity and building utilization. It is the job of this committee to offer incentives to encourage businesses to move into the downtown area. They also brainstorm ways to help improve use of buildings and public space that are vacant or struggling. The Economic Restructuring Committee monitors activity in downtown and informs ON TRAC of what is working well and what could be improved. By helping struggling businesses, considering alternative uses for vacant buildings, and working with the other ON TRAC committees to make a plan for downtown, the Economic Restructuring Committee works to improve the economic aspects of downtown.
Members of the Economic Restructuring Committee see what Main Street could be. They see alternate uses for old buildings and spaces. They have a good sense for business and care deeply for ON TRAC’s overall mission.
As I walked into work this morning I fumbled with my keys and pushed open the side door of the Tucker County Bank Building. The smells of dust and old wood mixed with the warm and inviting scent of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, reminding me that it was the beginning of another week. The noise of machines from Jones Auto Works and blasts of trucks passing through town fill the office. I said hello to Lisa Jones of Chloe’s Sugar Shack (the baker responsible for the absurdly delicious rolls) and turned on my computer. Who else had sat in this office over the years? What sights, sounds, and smells did they experience? Many of you (the citizens of Parsons and Tucker County) know the history of this building. Many of you have worked or met in this building and many of you helped get it listed on the national register of historic places. For those of you who are not familiar with its past, here, in several sections, is the history of the Tucker County Bank Building found at the corner of First and Walnut in Parsons, WV.
Before I continue, I have to thank the committee that prepared, created, and successfully submitted the application to have the Bank Building placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This document is invaluable in its information and allows me (someone without a background in architecture or local Parsons history) to understand the changes that this building has undergone and its significance to the people and city of Parsons. Most of the information I will be recounting can be found in this narrative which was produced and submitted by the Mills Group.
When I first came to Parsons in August, the Tucker County Probation office had left the Bank Building leaving it vacant. Since the space for the ON TRAC office in the Senior Center had fallen through, what better location than smack dab in the center of town in one of Parsons’s historic buildings? Parson ON TRAC would be able to share in the history of this unique building that has survived multiple floods, was the home to a Masonic temple, held countless professional offices from banks to dentists to lawyers to bakers, and, until a few months ago, several dead birds (don’t worry – they are gone now). One of the amazing characteristics of this building is its longevity. The structure and outside façade remain virtually identical to what the building looked like at its completion in 1901. Pictures of the bank building dating from immediately after construction to today show that the red brick Romanesque-revival outside have remained almost unchanged. Only the addition of brick covering the store front facing Walnut Street and the removal of a parapet with crenellations sometime in the first half of the 20th century indicate time has passed.
The picture on the left was taken in 1917, the one on the right in 2013. Notice the difference in the roof? How about the drug store in the bottom left in both pictures? The 1917 picture shows FS Johnson Drug while the 2013 picture illustrates the brick that has covered the storefront. Do you see any differences that we missed? If you like the historic picture, you can see it hanging in City Hall. I took the recent picture a few months ago before winter set in.
But what has been going on inside the building all this time? You will have to wait for our next post! We can’t give everything away at once, can we?
To continue our series of posts describing our committees, here is the Design Committee. Simply put, the Design Committee understands design. This may seem redundant, but it is the simplest way to describe what this committee does. This is the committee whose members know what physical improvements can be made to the downtown area to make it more accessible and more active. They look at the building blocks of the town center and see bustling streets, retail stores, restaurants, and beautiful sidewalks and store fronts. The Design Committee spreads its knowledge of design to business owners and community members so that they can take the initiative and create their own enhanced space. Members of the Design Committee work with business owners and community members to provide assistance in creating quality and sustainable downtown areas.
Members of the Design Committee are visionaries, but they are also practical. They truly understand the unique characteristics of Parsons and strive to create a downtown that reflects them.
If you have read our first post and learned a little more about us from our pages and the department of commerce website, you now know a little bit about ON TRAC. But how does it actually work? How does this organization accomplish what it sets out to do? ON TRAC takes a page right out of National Main Street’s book and uses Main Street’s 4-point approach and structure of volunteer committees. Volunteers are organized into 4 groups with a variety of focuses. Each group works on both independent and cooperative projects to make sure that all aspects of community revitalization are addressed. Each committee tackles a different aspect of revitalization: Organization, Design, Economic Restructuring, and Promotion.
We will be adding posts about each committee and its specific goals/tasks in the near future. Since each committee focuses on different tasks, ON TRAC needs volunteers with a wide range of skills and assets. After reading the description of each committee (posts forthcoming), consider where you and your skill set might fit in best.
As 2014 begins, we at Parsons ON TRAC would like to try spreading the word about what we do with this new blog! We hope to use this site as a way to share information about local events, news about revitalization, community development, and more!
First of all, what is ON TRAC? Click the “Home” and “About Parsons ON TRAC” links on the menu above our header to learn a little more about this unique program for downtown revitalization. Also click the following link to the West Virginia Department of Commerce website: http://www.wvcommerce.org/people/communityresources/communityrevitalization/ontrac/default.aspx. From there see what towns besides Parsons in West Virginia have an ON TRAC program, and how downtown revitalization is helping to increase tourism, historic preservation, and economic development around the state.
Second, who am I and how did I get here? My name is Rachel Puelle, Parsons ON TRAC’s 2013-2014 AmeriCorps member. If you would like to learn more about AmeriCorps and the corporation for national and community service, check out this website: http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps. After my graduation from the University of Connecticut with a history degree, I started in September and was trained by the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps in Elkins. While originally from New Jersey, I have roots in these mountains. My grandparents both grew up in Preston County, and I have spent countless weeks visiting parts of Preston and Tucker counties since I was little. I could not be more excited to work here in Parsons and have enjoyed meeting people and learning about the town!
I will do my best to keep this blog up-to-date with community news and information related to downtown revitalization. Please feel free to visit our downtown office at 303 First Street in Parsons, give us a call at 304.478.6009, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. This winter weather has done a pretty good job of making me work to stay warm, so please send me an email to check that I am in the office and not stuck at home waiting for the roads to be plowed. I am always available through email and will try my best to be available in person! Another place to reach me is the Parsons ON TRAC Facebook page. I manage the page, posts, and messages, so if you are more comfortable reaching out that way, go for it! Thanks for reading this first post and keep an eye out for more to come!