CHESTER - For more than 20 years, the former Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery in Chester sat idle, vacant and crumbling, going from the community's major employer to one of its biggest nuisances.
On Monday, following 10 months of planning and cooperation between Chester residents, the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle and local and state officials, the structure was being prepared for demolition, with the hope a new beginning soon will rise from the rubble.
That new beginning also received a push from West Virginia's governor, who was on hand Monday to present a check for $200,000 to put toward the demolition; set to begin in the coming days.
Pat Ford, executive director of the BDC, passed out small sledgehammers to many of those involved in the project, including members of the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee, the BDC board, Hancock County commissioners, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other local officials.
"There are no shovels," Ford said. "Today, we're going to be knocking something down."
The first to receive the token was Chester Mayor Ken Morris, who recalled Tomblin's last visit to Chester when he was shown the remnants of the building and told of similar visits and requests for help with West Virginia's four previous governors.
TALKS ABOUT SITE — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, left, addresses area residents Monday in Chester while Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp., looks on. Tomblin was in Chester to take one final tour of the Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery site and contribute $200,000 toward its demolition. -- Craig Howell
"Today, he is going to be the last governor to see this," Morris said.
Morris said the desire to demolish the property has been strong in the community, but said it always felt as if no one was listening.
Members of the Hancock County Commission agreed, saying it took the right combination of people to finally get things moving. The demolition and future redevelopment could not happen with just hope and effort from local sources, they said, it also needed assistance from throughout the state and even elements of the federal government.
"We had the money, and we just couldn't get it done," Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller said. "Today's we're putting it in four-wheel drive and moving forward."
Commissioner Dan Greathouse said this is the start of a new beginning for the property and the Chester community, while Commissioner Jeff Davis thanked Ford and BDC Assistant Director Marvin Six before presenting them with $500,000 toward the project.
In presenting the $200,000 from the state, Tomblin said despite the past importance of the factory, "There comes a time when you have to tear it down and start over."
"It's been 30 years since that plant has closed up there," Tomblin said. "Today, we finally have the resources put together to be able to bring that building down."
Tomblin said he hopes to come back to Chester in another year and help to cut the ribbon on the opening of a new business.
The seeds to the progress of the TS&T demolition were planted in January 2011 when the Northern Brownfield Assistance Center presented a $5,000 grant to the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission to begin a study of the site. This grant helped in the creation of the Rock Springs Riverfront Redevelopment Committee, made up of area residents, business and government leaders and property owners interested in creating a new vision for the site.
This work attracted the BDC, which purchased the property in June and has been working alongside the various organizations to obtain the required funding, plans and permits to demolish the structure.
Several ideas for the future of the TS&T site have been discussed, including the possibility of retail space, restaurants, medical offices, a water park, warehousing, high-rise apartments, a micro-brewery or a craft and business showcase.
(Howell can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)