Sistersville gets ‘ON TRAC’
Sistersville, along with 13 other West Virginia communities, has been chosen as the state’s first-ever designated ON TRAC Community, Gov. Joe Manchin announced during a news conference Feb. 18 at the Governor’s Mansion.
ON TRAC an acronym for Organization, Training, Revitalization and Capacity is a new program created by Main Street West Virginia to help communities boost economic growth with evaluation, education and networking resources.
To be eligible for ON TRAC, a community must be located within an incorporated area, served by downtown infrastructure and resources and have a sponsoring organization. Sistersville was sponsored by Tyler Revitalization and the Sistersville Heritage Foundation.
Nine members of Tyler Revitalization traveled to Charleston Feb. 18 for the unveiling of the ON TRAC program. Accepting the award for Sistersville included Joyce Konopacky, Al Tuttle, Linda Jensen, Karen Mercer, Elizabeth Thomas, Chris Hoke, Linda Marrin, Marilyn Puttenvink, and Marilyn Collett.
Tuttle was named the ON TRAC Liaison. Tuttle is the husband of Tyler Revitalization Chair Chris Hoke.
“My duties will be (as) the principle contact between the West Virginia Development ON TRAC people and working with other local people in Sistersville to carry out some of the ON TRAC activities and to basically organize around main street activities,” explained Tuttle.
Several Tyler Revitalization members attended a preliminary meeting several months ago in Fairmont hosted by the state to present the program to communities. Tuttle said that Sistersville was a prime candidate for ON TRAC.
“Sistersville has such a rich history that it seemed to be a natural fit into the ON TRAC program,” said Tuttle. “We put together an application for it and kept Mayor (Dave) Fox advised of what we were doing.”
Sistersville joins 12 statewide communities in the pilot program. The following towns were also designated as ON TRAC Communities: Belington, Barbour County; Beverly, Randolph County; Elkins, Randolph County; Madison, Boone County; Matewan, Mingo County; Oak Hill, Fayette County; Ranson/Charles Town, Jefferson County; Romney, Hampshire County; Rowlesburg, Preston County; Shinnston, Harrison County; Sutton, Braxton County; Webster Springs, Webster County.
In a letter addressed to the “Citizens of Sistersville,” Department of Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes praised the city for making the lucky 13.
“I would like to express my warmest congratulations for being selected as a 2009 West Virginia ON TRAC Community,” said Goes. “The Sistersville Heritage Foundation and Tyler Revitalization organizations have taken an important first step to achieve the mission of boosting economic vitality in the heart of your neighborhood by joining the West Virginia Development Office ON TRAC Program.”
Communities selected for ON TRAC will receive training in downtown and neighborhood revitalization, an assessment of strengths and weaknesses, a technical design visit, action-planning services, access to an online library of databases and resources, telephone consultation, scholarship and grant information, and participation in a mentoring program.
“ON TRAC illustrates one way the residents of this state have pulled together to improve the quality of life and business opportunities in their respective communities,” Gov. Joe Manchin said in a release. “This program helps towns get ‘ON TRAC’ to revitalization by capitalizing on the history and the resources of the community itself.”
According to data from the West Virginia Development Office, a community’s central business district often accounts for as much as 30 percent of its jobs and 40 percent of its tax base.
ON TRAC is the precursor to becoming a fully designated Main Street Community; participants must be an ON TRAC Community for at least two years before applying to become a Main Street Community. However, unlike the Main Street program, ON TRAC Communities are not required to set up 501c3 nonprofit organizations or hire staff, said Main Street West Virginia Coordinator Monica Miller in a release.
“Participants have the flexibility to work toward becoming a Main Street Community, or they can choose to remain at the same level and continue to reap great benefits from being part of a statewide network.” Miller said.
Main Street West Virginia, a program of the West Virginia Development Office, focuses on economic revitalization of historic downtown and neighborhood commercial districts by providing technical services, design assistance and continuous training of board and committee members and program managers using the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Four-Point Approach. The Four-Point Approach includes: Organization (managing human and financial resources), Design (improving the physical features of downtown), Promotion (promoting a positive image of the commercial district), and Economic Restructuring (strengthening, expanding and diversifying the economic base).
Started in 1988, the program works with 15 designated communities throughout the state. Main Street West Virginia provides a liaison between various state agencies and organizations with the designated communities.
The program works hand in hand with the National Main Street Center, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Created by congressional charter in 1949, the trust is a leading advocate of preservation in the United States. The National Main Street Center was formed in 1980 to deal with small town revitalization. The program has now grown to include urban programs in such cities as Boston, Chicago, San Diego and others. State programs contract with the National Main Street Center for services to local communities. The work provided by the center is on a fee for service basis, paid for by state programs.
“Normally the entrance into Main Street requires communities to have a upfront fee of around $50,000 that they have to dedicate in order to get into the Main Street program,” said Tuttle. “Many of the West Virginia communities that could benefit from this program financially just can’t do it. This is a way the state is reaching out to try to give those communities a little hand up by providing them at least some technical and people resources from the state office and assisting them in getting organized, on track, to join the Main Street program, which does come – as I understand – with funding and funding resources.”
For an organization almost nine months old, Tyler Revitalization has gotten off to a good start. The group was originally a committee formed under the Sistersville Heritage Foundation and continues to operate under that umbrella, which includes the Oil and Gas Festival, Sisters Fest, and Health Raisers. Hoke explained that many of Tyler Revitalization’s goals stem from ideas expressed by the public.
“We’re seeking any avenue we can as far as grants and funding resources to help Tyler County and Sistersville,” exclaimed Hoke. “We took on (the County Home) and put the application in because a number of people at our booth at the Harvest Festival expressed an interest in it, so we followed through on it. We do have a lot of ideas. They may or may not happen; it depends on the support of the people of Sistersville and Tyler County.”
Both Hoke and Tuttle stress that it’s the same community involvement that will be needed to make the ON TRAC program a success. While the program only directly effects Sistersville, the economic benefits could positively effect the entire county.
“I would emphasize that the hard work is still before us,” said Tuttle. “If the citizens of Sistersville don’t agree, they need to come and voice their opinions. We’re not dictating anything here, we need their participation to guide it.”
“It has to be community supported,” agreed Hoke. “We can’t do this all ourselves. The people of Sistersville have to participate in order for it to come about.”