Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 3, 2013

Non-profit needs support to preserve Bluefield history

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — A group looking to preserve historic buildings in Bluefield is asking for help from businesses and people in the community to get their project off the ground.

Bluefield Preservation Society President Debrah Ammar said the group’s main mission will be to preserve historic buildings for the purpose of future economic development.

“Many of Bluefield’s beautiful, historic buildings have been reduced to rubble,” Ammar said. “The BPS believes many of the buildings that remain are structurally sound and our goal is to rehabilitate those structures to house new businesses. We believe preservation leads to prosperity. Our business plan is centered on the theory that businesses are partners in each other’s success — they are centrally located so patrons can visit several businesses during a visit to town. Our primary target audience is area residents, but we plan to market to regional tourists as well.”

Sara Helmandollar, secretary of the Bluefield Preservation Society, said the group began meeting in May 2012 but did not officially attain non-profit status until last fall.

“We are a new group,” Helmandollar said. “We got our 510(c)3 status in the fall of last year and had been meeting prior to that, but we only recently got our official status. Our first organizational meeting was in May 2012 and then we got our status in August 2012. Things are really starting to take off now. We are getting a lot of community support, which is really exciting.”

Helmandollar said the present focus of the group is preserving buildings in the downtown Depot District proposed by the city’s economic development team.

“Our main goal is to identify and acquire buildings in the downtown area,” she said. “Right now, we want to identify, acquire and revitalize these buildings. Hopefully, we can repurpose them with businesses. These are mainly buildings that are already empty as there are several empty buildings in the downtown area. There aren’t any buildings that are a priority, but we are looking at buildings on Commerce and Raleigh streets first. Those are all part of the proposed Depot District.”

Helmandollar said the history of the city is deeply rooted in these buildings.

“These buildings are who we are as a city,” Helmandollar said. “The history in downtown Bluefield is rich. These buildings are thumbprints of who we are, where we have been, and where we can go as a community. The architecture there is beautiful and we don’t want to lose that. That is our mission, to preserve that heritage. We just really believe we need to preserve these things to progress.”

However, acquiring and preserving historic buildings is a long process, Helmandollar said.

“It is quite a complicated process,” she said. “First and foremost, you can’t buy a building without funding. We have been busy working on grant applications and trying to acquire some money in that regard. We do have a fundraiser where we are selling blueberry preserves to help raise money, thought it doesn’t generate a great deal of money. We are trying to raise as much money as we can through different avenues. First and foremost, we have to plead our case to organizations and grant facilitators so we can raise some money before we can begin anything.”

Helmandollar said the group is made up entirely of volunteers.

“We have a business plan we have presented to the city of Bluefield and the city’s economic development team,” she said. “They have accepted it and supported it. That business plan is a vital part of acquiring funds for these projects. We have to find out the current owners of these buildings and contact them. It does take some time to track down owners and go through the whole process of just getting paperwork done to even start negotiations. We are all volunteers, but we are happy to do it because we all believe in Bluefield and our community. We just believe we need to preserve our history in order to prosper in the future economically.”

Helmandollar said the group would appreciate the help of anyone interested in furthering their cause.

“We are definitely going need a lot of help in the future,” Helmandollar said. “We have a web page where people can leave their contact information so we can get a hold of them. We are still planning a lot of activities. This is just our beginning and we are at a place where we can start sharing our objectives and missions. We are hoping to see a lot of community and business support. We need all the help we can. We need to come together as a united community to really make downtown a thriving area and restore our history.”

Founding members and board of directors for the Bluefield Preservation Society include President Debrah Ammar, Vice President Julie Hurley, Treasurer Skip Crane, Secretary Sara Helmandollar, Hal Gusler, Doris Sue Kantor, Gail Satterfield, and Betsey Sorrell.

For more information about the society, visit www.beautifulbluefield.com.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com