GRAFTON— Since 2014, with participation in the Turn This Town Around initiative, which later lead to the birth of All Aboard Grafton (AAG), our small town has been taking big steps toward community development and improvement.
Over the last six years, residents have seen new businesses pop up along Main Street, and renovation improvements made to some of the town’s historic old buildings, such as Taylor County Art’s Council’s Gallery 62 West, which once served as Grafton’s opera house.
With all the positive happenings in the downtown area, residents were left wondering when and if actions would be taken to revitalize two of the area’s most notable structures, the B&O Station and the Willard Hotel.
The B&O Station has been owned by Vandalia Heritage Foundation since December 1997. The Foundation works to catalyze economic revitalization in distressed and underserved areas by redeveloping historic and blighted properties.
While Vandalia had some success in restoring the main level of the station and installing a USDA funded commercial kitchen, progress came to a halt in the early 2000’s, with the last known use of the space being in 2015.
During a 2017 meeting of AAG, in which the group discussed the growth of the community, members shared their hopes of being able to build a relationship with Vandalia.
That hope has since come to fruition, and the residents’ wonderings have been partially answered with an announcement that was made during Thursday’s AAG meeting.
“Recently there has been a team pulled together to get some things happening,” revealed Ray Moeller, Economic Redevelopment Specialist, Brownfields Assistance Center.
Moeller explained that the newly formed team, the Depot Commission, is comprised of himself, AAG Director Tom Hart, Associate Professor of Management/Marketing at Fairmont State University Bob Weaver, Community Development Specialist with Mountain Town Strategies, Kate Greene, and Laura Kuhns, President and CEO of Vandalia Heritage Foundation.
Together the commission has created a plan that will once again have the doors of the beloved station open to the public.
On Friday, the group sent out Request for Proposals (RFP) in the hopes of occupying the street level space with a food and beverage service, with the potential for retail and office space, exhibit space and an event space.
Excitement filled the room and questions began flowing, with meeting attendees eager to learn more about this proactive step.
“We are going about this in a very professional manner. This isn’t something that was thrown together over night with just a ‘hey whatever you think works’,” Moeller remarked.
He added by saying those who respond to the RFP will be asked to submit a general business plan, references and a financial statement indicating sufficient resources.
“We want to occupy the space, but we also want to make sure that it is something that shares in our vision and will be beneficial to the community, and be capable of sustainability,” noted Moeller.
Hart interjected saying that this was the best opportunity presented since 2014 to actually get some traction on the project.
“It is extremely important to this town from the psychological aspect, but also the economics of it all. I think it’s a really good thing. It will be a community process and we are ready to see it come to fruition,” he shared. “Since 2014 All Aboard Grafton has been trying to find a path forward for both the depot and the Willard Hotel. We are both optimistic and committed to doing whatever it takes to support the effort. Hopefully the entire community takes a similar approach.”
The news was very well received and added a new sense of hope for those who have been working tirelessly to better the town and bring these positive changes to the community.
Future ideas for the basement area and upstairs of the B&O were also briefly discussed, with mention of potentially utilizing the upper area for lodging.
“It is very exciting. This will open many doors of opportunity for the space. The important thing right now is that we have taken the first step to get the ball rolling,” Hart stated. “All Aboard Grafton really doesn’t care what has or hasn’t happened with this project in the past. We choose to take the windshield view as opposed to the rear view mirror.”
His statement was followed by Grafton Mayor Peggy Barney sharing her belief that it is a step in the right direction.
“For too long, nothing has been done with that B&O. Now there is a plan, now there is hope. We are definitely headed to in the right direction in a big way,” she said.
Before concluding the meeting Hart voiced that he personally doesn’t want to lose sight of the Willard Hotel.
“I know it’s a different animal, a very ugly animal,” he joked. “But there has to be a pathway out there in a creative fashion to have something happen there that will also perhaps address some other opportunities we have here in the community. So, I am going to stay on that going forward.”
Those wishing to obtain and submit a proposal should contact Kate Green at 406-640-0551 or by emailing [email protected]. RFP’s are being accepted until March 31.
Positive changes are taking place and anyone can be a part of action by joining All Aboard Grafton. The group meets on Thursdays at noon, unless otherwise noted, at Espresso Yourself Coffee House, located on Main Street.