First Ward School Saved

By: Johan Graham, AU Associates

First Ward School Apartments is the historic, adaptive re-use of the First Ward School on South Davis Avenue in Elkins, WV. Listed on the 2009 West Virginia Endangered Properties List, this re-birth into sixteen affordable apartments for seniors was a collective effort. Saved from the wrecking ball by C-HOPE of Randolph County, the building proved a difficult asset to re-use as it was in very poor condition.

However, when a funding window opened up for the affordable housing program, consultant Terrell Ellis [of Terrell Ellis & Associates] assembled a team that was up for the task. Owner Karen Jacobson with Highland Community  Building and Developer Holly Wiedemann with AU Associates paired up to purchase the building from C-HOPE and apply for all needed funding to completely restore the building.

Funding came from various sources such as the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the Federal and State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits, and a Development Grant from the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office. The grand opening of this new facility will take place on September 24.

To see pictures of the project and view more from the Preservation Alliance newsletter, visit:

Sustainable Communities Building Blocks Grant Opportunity

Many communities around the country are asking for tools and resources to help them achieve their desired development goals, improve the quality of life for their residents, and make their communities more economically and environmentally sustainable. In response to this demand, EPA developed the Sustainable Communities Building Blocks Program.

The Sustainable Communities Building Blocks Program seeks to provide quick, targeted technical assistance to 20 communities using a variety of tools that have demonstrated results and widespread application. This technical assistance will help selected local and/or tribal governments to implement development approaches that protect the environment, improve public health, create jobs, expand economic opportunity, and improve overall quality of life.

Each technical assistance project in a community will include:

·    Public engagement — for example, a one-day workshop that is open to the general public.

·    Direct consultation with relevant decision-makers.

·    A memo outlining specific steps the community could take if it wants to implement the ideas generated during the site visit.

Among the tools that will be used are zoning code reviews, walkability assessments, parking policy analysis, climate action planning, commuter benefits, complete streets, and fiscal and economic tools.

Applying for Sustainable Communities Building Blocks

EPA announced a Request for Letters of Interest (RFLI) on February 3, 2011 (PDF) (11 pp, 172K, About PDF). Letters must be received by February 23, 2011. See the RFLI for information on how to apply.

HUD Webinar on FY12 Budget

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Regional Administrator Jane C. W. Vincent, will be presenting an overview of the President’s FY 12 proposed budget via webcast on Monday, February 14 at 2:00 p.m.  To access the website at 1:45 p.m. please use this link.  If you do join us for the webcast, email your name, organization affiliation, email address and telephone number to and indicate in your e-mail that you watched the webcast.

Is West Virginia Embracing the New Economy?

According to a recent study by the Kauffman Foundation the answer is no.  The 2010 State New Economy Index was released last month showing that once again WV was at the bottom of a long list of states that are more successfully transitioning their economic sectors to growing information and technology fields. 

In a time where job creation is at the top of everyone’s lists it is hard to promote innovation as a solution.  However, most studies on this issue have shown that innovation is positively correlated to job creation by creating first-mover advantages for firms; creating a cycle of expanded employment; and leading to higher productivity, increased wages and lower prices.  The bottom line is that it is not important to create just any job – but rather to secure the right mix of jobs at the right wage levels – and innovation provides the best opportunity for that.

This report (which was also produced in 2002, 2007, and 2008), claims that in order for states to be well positioned to drive innovation-based growth they need to possess specific factors.  Twenty-six indicators have been identified and used to determine the degree to which a state economy is knowledge-based, globalized, entrepreneurial, IT-driven, and innovation based. WV ranked 49th overall when assessing each of the indicators.

It is not all bad news though; there were some indicators where WV is showing success:

  • WV ranks 27th in the number of Deloitte Technology Fast 500 and Inc. 500 firms as a share of total firms. This is up from 49th in the 2007 assessment.
  • WV ranks 24th in the utilization of digital technologies in state government, up from 47th in the previous ranking study.
  • WV ranked 8th in Health IT which was measured by the number of prescriptions routed electronically.

Given our low results in the other indicators, WV has a long way to go in addressing our capacity to develop a knowledge based economy.  Access to technology and infrastructure along with our rural nature are obvious impediments.  Less noted in this study is the importance of education and especially K-12 investment as an effective strategy to attracting new economy industries to our state.  Studies like this help to shine a light on what is working and what is not.  Hopefully WV can benefit from some new thinking in relation to the New Economy.

Read the full study

The Same Old Conundrum…

Once again I find myself struggling with a great development project concept, and no way to fund the first steps that are needed to bring it to fruition.  As my good friend Joe Barker (many of you know him too!) used to say when he was getting ready to launch one of his many good ideas, “I need some ‘walkin’around’ money”.  What Joe meant was that in order to advance that good idea there was some seed money needed to test its feasibility.   In development terms, there are soft costs that need to be raised in order to perform the due diligence required to determine if the project costs can be justified.  These include costs related but are not limited to: surveying, engineering, architectural and design services, legal, environmental analysis, feasibility studies, etc. 

So here I am working on plans to develop Phase II of the Braxton Technology Center, and I’m trying to figure out how to pay for my upfront costs.  I don’t know what I would do without the graciousness of our architect who constantly defers payment until I can figure out how to pay for his work!  Now that I have that resolved, (and by that I mean I’m leaning on him again to give up his time to help me)  I need to locate funds to pay for the feasibility planning for the proposed end use. I’m sure I will muddle through—but, it would be nice to see a clear cut path for obtaining the resources for this phase of the project.  Architects, engineers, and other professionals should not have to wait months and sometimes years for payment until project funding is secured.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta used to have a program that helped to defray predevelopment costs on projects of a qualifying nature.  Those costs were advanced and then recaptured through its community development financing programs. To my knowledge this program doesn’t exist anymore. And I am not aware of anything in West Virginia to address the issue. If we want quality development projects, and we want more of them, it is going to take a concerted effort to address this problem.  I’ve talked about this for years—I know some of you are tired of hearing me! I’m tired of talking—let’s do something!  Anybody else interested?  Contact me.