Built in 1914, the Ohio National Guard Armory has been a fixture in downtown Marietta for nearly 100 years.
The Ohio National Guard itself can trace its roots back to the city and its initial settlement in 1788.
Since the Ohio National Guard vacated the armory in 1991, however, the building has been sitting empty, waiting for the next step.
Citizen groups like Friends of the Armory and the Citizens Armory Preservation Society have made efforts to turn the armory into a visitor hub that they think will help revitalize the city.
"The visitor industry in Marietta and Washington County is $160 million annually, according to the Ohio Department of Development. That is a huge opportunity for us to grow, to bring new outside dollars into the local economy," said Marietta City Councilman Michael Mullen, I-at large.
Under a revised plan introduced the week of March 12, renovations to the armory will be done in phases, rather than all at once.
Q&A:?Caporale longtime armory supporter
After moving to Marietta in 1973, Jim and Sylvi Caporale found themselves falling in love with the historic town.
In 1996, the couple became the owners of American Flags & Poles, 276 Front St., which is just down the street from the Ohio National Guard Armory.
Q: How did you get involved in the armory restoration project?
A: We moved to Marietta in 1973 when my wife took a teaching job, which she had for 15 years. I've always had businesses out of town.
In 1996 we bought American Flags & Poles from another gentleman and we moved downtown. Now we've been totally immersed in Marietta.
We are very historical attuned and have always felt that Marietta wasn't doing enough to save its historical district. When the armory became available and then (the city) bought it, we became involved in trying to save it.
Q: Why was this something you wanted to do?
A: We appreciate Marietta's history and wanted to preserve it. A group of citizens got together and said we don't want to see (the armory) torn down. We want to re-purpose it.
Originally it was the historic aspect of it. There is only one or two National Guard armories in the state. It just seems to fit in with everything Marietta stands for.
Q: How important do you think the armory will be to the tourism industry in Marietta?
A: If you can have things centralized that will help, because people come in and say 'Where's your tourist and convention center?' You say over on Putnam Street, then they ask 'Where's Putnam Street?' You give them directions, and they can get intimidated.
Q: What do you see the future of the armory being in 10 years?
A: Ten years from now we view that as a hub. A hub for the community, not just buses coming in, but a facility anybody can go to and learn about our CVB. We're talking about having the military recruiters there. It will be a place where anybody can go and learn about the community.
Another thing, having a guy like (historian) Henry Burke and our history here, a small display communicating how important our area was to the Underground Railroad would be appropriate. All those things could take place.
Kevin Pierson conducted this interview.
That plan is projected to enable the city and armory preservation groups to take advantage of grant money currently available to stabilize the building.
"I really like the approach the mayor and council have taken," said Terry Tamburini, executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.
On Feb. 13, the Armory Square project hit a significant road block, when Marietta city council agreed to step back and reanalyze the $2.5 million project, which had been racing toward a March 5 construction start.
In January, the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau director said the current Armory Square business plan would not generate the profit originally projected. The CVB was working on a business plan for the project at the time.
"Any economic development has to change and grow and adapt. Everybody was looking at the armory as that project. Now they're going to have to adapt within the business structure," Tamburini said.
Shortly after it was announced the original plan was not economically viable, a new business plan was submitted that projects the armory to be a profitable venture, although there remains debate among officials and residents.
The CVB remains committed to being a tenant of Armory Square, noting it will help with greater accessibility and visibility to the public as well as parking.
"I see those as additional opportunities for our being located in the armory," said Jeri Knowlton, executive director of the CVB.
Supporters of the Armory Square project insist it will be a boon to the local tourism industry.
Mullen pointed to a small community in West Virginia, which mirrors Marietta in many respects, and the success that Lewisburg, W.Va., had by moving the welcome center to downtown.
Lewisburg, located in Greenbrier County, moved its welcome center from near the interstate to a new location in the historic section of the city. In the first year of operation, visitors at the center went from 3,000 to 33,000, Mullen said.
The Armory Square project has the potential for the same thing, he said.
"That is a huge economic driver, that just by virtue of getting people off the highway into your downtown, that has a ripple effect on all of the local businesses in that immediate area," Mullen said.
By making the decision to wait on construction the city risked losing $461,000 in an Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant, which had the deadline extended several times.
In the new plan that grant would be restructured to $183,726 with a local match of $36,745.
Along with that grant change, the status of $1 million in tax credits is also uncertain.
"It's unfortunate that $1 million worth of historic tax credits is now in limbo but, proceeding as we are, that doesn't preclude us from coming back and trying to get tax credits again," Mullen said.
Mullen noted there are 1,700 people in the county who have jobs directly related to tourism. Statistics from the CVB indicate that an overnight visitor will spend about $270 a day, he noted.
Making the armory a driving force in that business will help bolster the city and county financial base.
"If we can build this armory and sustain it through the visitor economy, then it's a no-brainer," Mullen said.
Two bid packages are options for the phase.
Bid package one includes demolition, lead paint abatement, abatement of asbestos containing roof flashing, building envelope, reconstruction of the front soffit, structural repairs to the roof, structural repairs to the first and second floor framing of the south wing, construction of the mechanical equipment platform and all work required for the construction of the elevator and elevator lobby.
Bid package two is to replace all exterior doors, frames and windows including installation of new lintels at eight locations. All work for the second bid package must be completed by July 20.
Source: City of Marietta