POINT PLEASANT — Point Pleasant City Council met this week for a special meeting, taking up a tabled motion from the previous council meeting regarding the rebuilding plans for the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center.
The council members in attendance were Charles Towner, Janet Hartley, Leigh Ann Shepard, Jerrie Howard, Gabe Roush, Pat Sallaz, Elaine Hunt, Brad Deal, Rick Simpkins, and Oliver Warner was present via conference call for voting purposes along with Mayor Brian Billings and City Clerk Amber Tatterson.
Billings called the meeting to open and turned the reigns over to City Attorney Michael Shaw.
Due to Shaw’s absence from the regularly scheduled council meeting this month, the council tabled a motion made by Howard which was meant to delay the demolition and moving ahead with the plans until a structural engineer with experience in historical preservation could do an evaluation of the structure, and allow up to $8,000 in fees to be used for the cost of the engineer. The motion was seconded by Hunt.
Roush then made a motion to table the previous motion made by Howard and to allow the city attorney to review the contract made with Burgess and Niple and then hold the special meeting to discuss the matter further.
“I’m sure most of you know anybody can sue anybody, but the question is whether or not there is merit to move forward with it and given the circumstances and the long history between the city and Burgess and Niple, and I’ve worked personally a lot with Mike Davis, he’s here, he’s the engineer, and as I would consider the agent of Burgess and Niple, I don’t see in the event the council were to pass the approval of a third engineer’s opinions, I don’t see that buying the city a lawsuit in reality,” Shaw said. “I think there’s a good working relationship there and I think there’s a whole lot of other things to consider, but given that circumstance and talking with Mike, I think in the event if that were to happen, then the current contract would be amended by agreement.”
Shaw then opened the floor to discussion and Jack Fowler, river museum director, offered to address the pending motion.
Fowler said, “I want to let you know that the Point Pleasant River Museum Foundation, I have four other board members here, five counting me, we had a meeting last Thursday and we have 18 members on our board and they voted 100 percent to support the contract the city has with Burgess and Niple and write the demolition plan and take the building down and replace it with a replica of the building that stands there today and build it out of brick, so we want to duplicate what’s there. We oppose trying to hire another architect/structural engineer one that specializes in historic buildings… You can save anything if you got enough money and that’s the key to it, you‘ve got to have the money to do that, to do that is further delay…and it’s always more costly to go into an old building and try to recondition that and rebuild that than it is to start from ground level and build up. So we strongly urge the council to reject the motion to hire another engineer.”
Fowler then regarded the information Howard handed out prior to the start of the meeting regarding the possibility of using tax credits for the river museum. According to the handout, municipalities can receive state, 25 percent, and federal, 20 percent, commercial tax credits for rehabilitating property on the National Register of Historic Places or in local historic districts even though they do not pay taxes. These tax credits can then be sold (transferred) to entities who do pay taxes. The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture, and History has a list of potential buyers for such credit. He commented though this is good information to know, it would take time to do this and time is of the essence for the river museum.
He then discussed the river museum’s yearly budget, which all together is around $150-160,000 including the river training offered via the simulators. Currently, the river museum is operating on funds slightly under $40,000 and the staff does not want to start drawing money from their fire account, which has approximately $65,000 and is for the river museum rebuild.
“We have an opportunity during this time to really do something meaningful for the city of Point Pleasant…,” said Fowler,
Fowler further explained he knows the building and he knows the second floor must come out before anything else can be done as there are many weaknesses in the building. Also, he brought up finding insurance for the structure and the increased difficulty should they try to rebuild from the already existing structure. The staff is currently searching out a new insurance plan and Fowler commented it is difficult task at this point.
Howard responded to Fowler explaining getting the tax credits would be an easy task and could be completed within two months and would go on top of the current rebuilding funds. She also brought Fowler’s as well as fellow council member’s attention to an email correspondence regarding possible rebuilding plans towards the beginning of the project and an insurance representative explained two repair options to keep the brick wall in place when rebuilding.
Mike Davis, engineer for Burgess and Niple, explained he sees two issues with trying to rebuild from the already existing structure including time and risk.
Davis said, “The risk is going to be on if you build it new, then you have a contractor to come in and he’s going to have a warranty and he’ll be the one responsible for it. If you re-habit, then there’s going to have to be someone to take that risk, that risk is then going to go on to a designer.”
He further explained should the council bring in a third specialist engineer, then that engineer, should they deem the structure safe to rebuild from the existing structure, would be in charge of the plans and would have to design the structure of building, Burgess and Niple would take that portion out of their contract with the city.
Howard then inquired if it would be possible to rebuild from the existing structure. Davis explained yes it could be done by building from the inside and leaving a “skin” on the outside, but it would be costly.
Shaw then asked Davis about the accessibility of finding an engineer with experience in historical preservation. Davis explained this sort of engineer would be a difficult find and is unlikely to be found within West Virginia. Howard retorted an engineer could be found within the state.
Roush inquired if before selection of the specialist engineer would bids have to be put out? Tatterson and Davis explained the council would have to go through multiple steps which could take a few months just for the selection of a third engineer.
Simpkins commented this is a very difficult situation, one of the most difficult he has faced since he has been on council as he sees the positives and negatives of the both sides of the issue and Hunt suggested finding a middle ground, so all could be satisfied. Hartley commented though this decision is very difficult, Fowler’s opinion and those of the river museum’s board of directors is a vital consideration.
Howard commented, in regards to Fowler and the fellow river museum board of directors’ opinion on the matter, “I appreciate your position, but there is something broader, something bigger than your position. I realize you’re losing money, but the big issue is the city is losing its history. It is nice that we can build that back and put a facade on it to make it look like it does or better, but it is not acceptable as history. We will lose that, another building, we’ll add to that 20 percent we’ve already lost of our historical district and when we lose the historic district there won’t be any tax credits that anybody can get for any refurbishing, there won’t be any tourists coming to see the historic community.”
Fowler responded, “The visitors that come to Point Pleasant, don’t come to look at our buildings. They come to see what’s in them and they come to see the battlefield, they come to see the river, and they come to see the Mothman.”
Shaw then called for final vote on the motion to delay the demolition and moving ahead with the plans until they can have a structural engineer with experience in historical preservation do an evaluation of the structure and allow up to $8,000 in fees to be used for the cost of the engineer. The motion did not pass with one yes vote from Howard, one abstain from Hunt, and eight no votes from Towner, Hartley, Shepard, Roush, Warner, Sallaz, Deal, and Simpkins.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing. Reach her at (304) 675-1333, extension 1992.