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‘WMD’ helping Pulaski ‘spring’ to life

AudienceBy MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

When one hears the acronym “WMD,” good things don’t usually come to mind because it’s typically used to describe “weapons of mass destruction.”

However, in the town of Pulaski, those three letters take on an entirely different meaning.

“We’ve worked with West Main (Development) for some time,” Pulaski Mayor Jeff Worrell said Thursday during an economic development announcement at Pulaski Train Station. “We’ve come to know them by the abbreviation WMD, which we think stands for weapons of mass development.”

A crowd filled the train station as town, county and state officials joined with representatives of West Main Development LLC Thursday to announce the company’s investment of more than $1.5 million in a redevelopment project in the town of Pulaski. West Main has purchased or is under contract to purchase four buildings on West Main Street and at least 10 residential properties in town.

Referencing the spring-like weather the New River Valley has experienced this summer, 7th District Del. Nick Rush equated the planned redevelopment to “spring in the town of Pulaski. With the (industrial) closings and tornado, it seems like we had winter for a couple of years. Right now, we’re getting to where flowers are starting to bud and we’re going to see things turn around.”

Rush said additional “good news” is that “this isn’t a government program … It’s the private sector stepping up to create jobs and to help revitalize downtown Pulaski.”

Speaking of investor Steve Critchfield, Rush added, “I’ve known Steve for a long time and I know he’s going to do a good job.”

According to project leader Cathy Stripling, the WMD board “has considerable planning and development exerience.” In addition to Critchfield, whom she described as “a local technology entrepreneur whose vision launched this effort,” Stripling said the board also consists of her father, former Staunton and Blacksburg city manager Bob Stripling, and Phillip Greer, who recently completed the local government program at Virginia Tech.

Stripling, a Blacksburg native who now lives in Pulaski, is on the cusp of opening “132 Guesthouse” at 132 Third St. NW, across from the County Administration Building. The revitalized house will serve as a “guesthouse” for tourists and other local visitors.

After graduating from Virginia Tech, Stripling said she moved away to the city because she felt that was her only option. Although she was in an area that offered elements similar to Southwest Virginia, she decided after 15 years “if I wanted a place that reminded me of Southwest Virginia, I should move back to Southwest Virginia.”

When Critchfield told her of his plans to redevelop Pulaski, she said she came “to see what he was up to,” adding, “I saw a beautiful town with enormous potential and I decided I had to be a part of the project.

“I love living in Pulaski,” she said. “There are great people here who are working to make Pulaski and the New River Valley a place that people are proud to call home. The town of Pulaski is on the move and West Main Development is excited to be part of the momentum.”

Also involved in the project is 2008 Pulaski County High School graduate and WMD member Tyler Clontz. He said he rarely came to downtown Pulaski when he was growing up and his primary memories of downtown are “a few parades and Boy Scout meetings.”

Clontz said he saw the town as “seated in its history and deeply rooted in its past” with its broad streets and turn of the century facades. He noted that West Main’s plans can keep the town deeply rooted in its history, but also make it “dynamic and energetic. They’ll find a dynamic new environment with change happening. They’ll find a town that’s celebrating its history, but at the same time willing to build upon it.”

He added, “I have faith in Pulaski.

Maurice Jones, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, said he formerly worked for Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “traveling the country looking at what people were trying to do to revitalize neighborhoods and communities.

“Without a doubt, the most important ingredient … is private investment,” he said. “WMD says their overall goal is to be another catalyst among other investments already made and to come to restore downtown Pulaski to an active residential and commercial center.

“I can tell you from traveling the country the last two years, this is the way to do it. By marrying residential and commercial, people are able to walk to shop, walk to eat, walk to work and walk home.”

According to Jones and WMD plans, the four downtown buildings, located between Washington and Jefferson avenues, will have commercial tenants on the ground floor and apartments of various sizes on the upper floors. High-speed fiber optic Internet is an important part of the overall plan since the company plans to target the graduate student market in Blacksburg for the apartments.

“It is hard to overstate how important that is for building a community that can grow its own jobs and attract jobs from outside the area,” said Jones. “You’ve got to have that fiber optic connection.”

He pointed out that no more than 25 percent of rural residents currently have access to the Internet. “That is one of the biggest challenges that we confront.”

Jones praised the town and those involved in the revitalization project for their efforts to work together to make the project happen.

Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Chairman Joe Sheffey agreed that working together is vital to such projects. He said he thinks the town and county have worked well together and with this continued cooperative effort “there will be more good things happening” in the town and county.

The buildings WMD will be revitalizing are located at 29 W. Main St., 69 W. Main St., 85/87/89 West Main St. (formerly known as the Farmer building) and 94 W. Main St. When the downtown project is completed, Stripling said there will be 10 apartments with over 9,000 square feet of total space and five store fronts consisting of a total of 6,500 square feet.

Work is expected to begin soon on the Farmer building since that project has already been procured and bid. The company hopes to obtain its certificates of occupancy by the end of 2015.

Worrell said WMD’s investment is the most that has been invested in West Main Street since reconstruction of the courthouse following the fire 25 years ago.

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