Recent years have been challenging for the small McDowell County town of Kimball. Faced with a dwindling population and job losses, the municipality suffered a crippling blow in 2015 with the closure of the town’s Walmart store.
When the retail giant shuttered its doors, 140 jobs were lost, along with more than $65,000 in annual tax revenue for McDowell County. Another stumbling block facing the town is a growing number of dilapidated structures.
In fact, Mayor Adam Gianato says more than 67 structures in the town limits have been identified for potential demolition. But the amount of funding and manpower that would be needed to tear down that many structures simply isn’t available at this time.
However, work did get underway last week on a project that will ultimately involve the demolition of about 10 dilapidated structures in the town. The first structure was torn down last week through a pooling of local and county resources.
The hope is to tear down about 10 or more of the town’s abandoned homes through the start-up project, according to Randall Patton with the McDowell County Solid Waste Authority. He said the blighted structures are being removed through a pooling of local and county resources.
“And I feel demolition should be the number one priority of the county, so shortly after that, I contacted the mayor of Kimball, the DEP, Lusk Disposal, McDowell County Landfill, McDowell County Commission, McDowell County Solid Waste Authority and the town of Kimball,” Patton told the Daily Telegraph last week.
Tearing down the abandoned properties will increase the value of neighboring homes and eliminate safety and health hazards, according to Gianato.
It has been estimated that as many 5,000 abandoned structures in McDowell County need to be demolished. State Sen. Chandler Swope, R-6th District, recently introduced a measure in the West Virginia Legislature that seeks to facilitate and locate funding for a program that targets abandoned, condemned and blighted structures across southern West Virginia, and all of the Mountain State.
Structures in various stages of collapse are visible along parts of U.S. Route 52 in McDowell County. So the planned demolitions in Kimball are a good start, but more buildings will ultimately need to come down as funding becomes available not only in Kimball, but also in other towns and communities across McDowell County as well.
A region that is clean, and free of potential eyesores and blighted structures, is vital if we are to attract new business and tourism growth. Tourists, and potential entrepreneurs visiting from outside the region need to see vibrancy, not decay.