ROMNEY — It could be “one of the largest economic development projects in Hampshire County ever,” Robert Franzen told the Hampshire County Development Authority last Wednesday, as he asked for a 35-acre site to bring the Potomac Eagle to the Romney Industrial Park.
It would cost $6.5 million just for tracks and grading to bring the train to the industrial park, and Franzen’s plans also include a $3.2 million train depot, a $3.5 million maintenance facility and an $8 million hotel and conference center on a site stretching up the north side of the industrial park, to the right of the entrance road.
For the 29 years before Robert and Celeste Franzen bought it, the Potomac Eagle had been “sort of a basic operation, but successful,” Franzen said.
In their first year of operation, they have seen a 56-percent increase in ridership, despite “a lot of chaos,” and a 67-percent increase in revenue — not all profit, since costs increased too, he said.
Last year they added the North Pole Express, the first Christmas train sponsored by the Potomac Eagle itself instead of the Romney Chamber of Commerce.
This year should have brought continued growth, though “with the coronavirus, it’s hard to say,” Franzen acknowledged, saying “it could really kill our numbers this year.”
Plans for the year are to start operations May 2, and to add a Friday-night sunset trough train, as well as new classes of service: Premier Club with an upgraded menu, First Class, and table cars with box lunches.
“Eventually we’ll run year-round,” Franzen said, describing plans to move back the start date slowly, a month at a time, until the train runs January through December. They will add more special-events trains, and are increasing their marketing budget.
However, the current Potomac Eagle facility lacks the parking and infrastructure needed to expand. The only way they can handle more people there is to run more trains, and the tracks are used by freight trains Monday through Thursday, limiting the Potomac Eagle to 3 days a week.
If granted the site at the industrial park, the Franzens will apply for a BUILD grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The “Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development” program would help fund the first stage of a 3-part expansion project.
Franzen said they have a chance to get a grant this year — but the deadline is May 18. He asked for help with the grant, as well as use of the site. If the hoped-for grant does not come through, they will seek other sources of funding.
The 1st stage of the project would add tracks and grading to bring the train in, as well as a depot with a restaurant, museum, restrooms, waiting room and ticket office, and a large meeting space available year-round.
Stage 2 would add a 200-by-80-foot building to replace the small Potomac Eagle maintenance shed in Vanderlip. Steam Services of America, a sister company the Franzens own in North Carolina, would rent the facility and bring in contract work to help support it.
Further development would include a greenbelt and walking trails, with a scenic overlook and outdoor amphitheater, since a lot of the industrial park acreage is not buildable. A hotel and conference center would be placed on the highest point of land, with a view down the valley.
The development will bring jobs to the area. 15 new Potomac Eagle jobs were added last year, and there will be 5 more this year. The train will eventually employ up to 50 people, with the maintenance facility requiring up to 82, and the hotel up to 171.
Development Authority Executive Director Eileen Johnson noted that a small part of the acreage requested has been committed to another prospective tenant, but this could be “carved out” of the site.
It was noted that the agreement Franzen asked would commit acreage for the completion of later planned stages of the Potomac Eagle project, making it unavailable to other prospective tenants. HCDA President Greg Bohrer asked members to consider the impact on the tax base as well.
No decision was made at last week’s meeting.
Authority board members were given copies of Franzen’s presentation and urged to study them before a special session to be called later this month to review the annual financial audit, at which time they could decide on Franzen’s project.
ROMNEY — Safety issues with plans to place a new Romney Elementary School on the site of the old hospital were raised by both the Potomac Center and the county special services center at the Hampshire County Development Authority meeting last week.
“We support the school 110 percent,” Potomac Center CEO Rick Harshbarger said, but not the plan to extend Blue Street to provide access to it.
The plan to extend the roadway that runs through the Potomac Center property caught him by surprise, though it is not the first time this has been suggested.
“We’re on a dead-end street for a reason,” Harshbarger said. “We have no fences, no locks.” The Potomac Center has a highly vulnerable population and tries to give them freedom of movement, using Blue Street for bicycles, skateboards and therapy walks.
On the industrial park side of the planned extension, traffic would run down Veteran Boulevard, raising similar safety issues for users of the Hampshire County Special Services Center, which occupies buildings on both sides of the street.
HCSSC Director Kevin Sanders pointed out that people go back and forth across the road from program to program all day, commenting “even with speed limits and crosswalks up, I know how people drive.”
Harshbarger suggested a Depot Street entrance as an alternative for access to the new school, if space could be taken from the gas station on the corner of Route 28 to give room for buses to turn.
Development Authority President Greg Bohrer pointed out the primary purpose of putting the proposal out there was to get such input. It is important that they make sure the bond passes, he said, and safety will be taken into account then.
Development Authority Executive Director Eileen Johnson also noted everything is contingent on the bond passing, adding that no matter what happens with the school bond vote, the old hospital building will be taken down and they will market the property. o
We are all in this together.
With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, never have we been brought closer together than we are right now — even though we have to remain several feet apart.
Here at the Hampshire Review, we are committed to bringing you the news and information pertaining to this new virus and also keeping you informed of what is happening in our communities.
We encourage you to follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control to maintain social distancing, staying home, limiting travel and, of course, washing your hands and not touching your face as much as possible.
By working together and following the CDC's recommendations, together we can do the right things that will help put an end to this epidemic and allow us to resume our regular lives.
We know you are concerned about this virus. We are, too. We know you are worried about having a well-stocked refrigerator and cupboards. We know no one wants this potentially deadly virus to spread.
We encourage everyone to remain calm, to not panic and not panic buy at the grocery stores. Local stores will receive more inventory. Just please be patient.
We thank our medical professionals for being at the front lines helping patients, along with other first responders who are out there every day performing the same tasks.
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She was born in the Philippines and first practiced medicine in New York City, but Dr. Zinnia Giron made Romney her home for 43 years until her passing last week.
“The Philippines is like this,” said her husband, Dr. Nabal Giron. “You know everybody; everybody knows you.”
But most of all, he said, “She loved the people and everybody loved her.”
Zinnia Giron was all business in her office, recalls Iva Saville, her longtime nurse.
“She was very serious about work,” Saville said. “She was aggressive. She expected you to work.”
But outside her practice, she embraced life in so many ways, recalls longtime friend Paula O’Brien.
“She was my friend, my doctor and my neighbor,” O’Brien said.
Zinnia Giron loved to play piano so much that Nabal bought her a Steinway grand piano when they moved here.
She rode horses every morning before work. She would travel to Virginia’s horse country on weekends, competing in Middlesburg and Leesburg,
“That was a big, big part of her life,” Saville said.
Zinnia antiqued and dabbled in photography.
“She had beautiful pictures of her horses,” Saville recalled.
The Girons met in New York City when Nabal was a 1st-year resident at a hospital on Staten Island and Zinnia arrived from the Philippines as an intern who had graduated at the top of her class.
They were married in the hosopital’s chapel and stayed 10 years in the nation’s largest city.
“We always hated New York and wanted to live in a quieter place,” Nabal said.
He saw ads in the West Virginia Medical Journal, and the couple landed first in southern West Virginia, where they filled a 2-year contract at the Appalachian Regional Clinic. Then came the move to Hampshire County in 1977.
Nabal recalled the 1st drive into Romney, with Zinnia waking up in the car as Route 28 dipped south of Springfield.
“Boy, are you sure this is not the end of the world or something?” she asked.
They opened a practice, 1st upstairs in the Cookman Building at Main and Grafton, and later in an old house they bought at the corner of Main and Antigo.
“At that time she was the only female doctor in the area,” Saville noted. “Her patients loved her and she was very dedicated to them.”
O’Brien recalled calling Dr. Giron once early one morning when O’Brien’s 6-year-old daughter woke up screaming and had a horrible headache.
“Zinnia said, ‘Go to the office and I’ll meet you there,’” O’Brien said. “Zinnia and I had to chase her around the office so I could hold her so Zinnia could examine her.”
Nabal Giron closed his practice and worked for a few years for Valley Health at its clinic by the new Hampshire Memorial Hospital.
Zinnia Giron closed her practice in 2014.
Nabal said she will be buried at a later date in California, where a memorial service will be held after the coronavirus quarantine is lifted.
Last week, once the COVID-19 closings and cancellations really started to pile up, Hampshire County Schools were working hard to make sure that meals were available for the students of the county.
These meals were delivered by school bus to kids around the county, and now the program is adjusting the process, bumping the daily delivery to a once-a-week system, where students get meals for 5 days instead of a daily pickup or delivery.
“Over 10,000 meals went out the door today,” said Superintendent Jeff Pancione on Monday, saying that some locations were able to bring out hot meals for the kids too.
The delivery time, in order to adequately prepare for the packaging of such a large amount of meals, was also bumped to an hour later at 11 a.m. The meal pickup at the schools was available Monday from noon to 1 p.m.
The fluid, ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic is at the core of this shift, since a threat that constantly is changing is leading our community to constantly adapt.
On Sunday, Pancione announced the new program on Facebook for the meal delivery to kids in the county, explaining that the new program would allow kids to receive meals for 5 days instead of the daily schedule put into place last week.
“Because of our cooks, cafeteria managers, our bus drivers and phenomenal number of other staff, every location I visited was smooth, almost flawless,” Pancione described.
Additionally, after the school staff completed the preparations for Monday’s food plan, Pancione explained the new situation for school employees, as far as their duties and whether they are supposed to report to the school or not.
“After we fed [on Monday], we are shutting down,” said Pancione, saying that all school employees, including custodial staff and maintenance crews, were to no longer report to the schools “unless it’s for emergencies.”
“Principals should pop in long enough to do their check on the school,” Pancione explained, “Whatever they need to do, you know, basic, minute tasks.”
Pancione’s announcement of the changes being made to the food delivery program in Hampshire County also thanked the community for their patience, understanding and cooperation as the schools continue to overcome the challenges being thrown their way because of the virus.
He also noted that the situation continues to be monitored, and that he will post updates for next week when that decision is made.