Fayette County town to ‘plot' economic future - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Fayette County town to ‘plot' economic future

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Actor-turned-Mayor Michael Martin observes that it's not yet time for Mount Hope's curtain call. 

Although the Fayette County town experienced its peak decades ago, the finale has not played out. Tourists are bringing renewed hope for Mount Hope. A national Boy Scout high adventure camp borders the community and the National Coal Heritage Area is planning a discovery center in town.

The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve attracts visitors from across the country. 

"That's going to be very, very good for Mount Hope," said Martin, a four-term mayor who says the project is leading to improvements such as a water line extension. 

Martin is hoping Scouts and their families will visit the planned coal museum that will be situated in a former Ford dealership once owned by the late Gov. Okey L. Patteson. Renovations to the roof, doors and windows are scheduled this spring.

"We tell the story of coal in Southern West Virginia very well," he said, noting that Mount Hope once was the headquarters of New River Company. "It was a big player in the industry."

The influx of management from large cities combined with local talent created "a unique dynamic in this little town," according to Martin. "It was a great place to grow up."

Perks included a YMCA complete with an indoor pool, a 4,000-seat football stadium that was home to the Mount Hope High School Mustangs and a pair of entertainment venues.

"There were two movie theaters in town when I was growing up," he recalled. "They both played double features and I saw eight movies every week."

Mount Hope's business community is struggling, according to the mayor, who portrayed Mark Twain on stages across the country for two decades.

The "Y" is now a community center. Municipal Stadium still stands, but the local high school was closed. Both theaters are gone. The Princess, where Martin directed local theatrical productions for 25 years, is now the site for weekly auctions.

"We really don't have a good handle yet on everything we should be doing for economic development," he said. "What we've worked on the last few years is making the community look a lot better." 

New sidewalks and lighting were funded through federal grants. At the same time, dilapidated buildings have been demolished.

"We've torn down some housing in blighted neighborhoods and a few commercial buildings that were beyond salvaging," Martin stated. "Several stores in the central business district have closed and it's hard to attract new businesses downtown. I'm constantly working toward recruiting businesses for the empty storefronts."

Between his civic duties, the 66-year-old grandfather of three says he still plays a role in the entertainment industry. A member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, he has three independent films to his credit. 

"I like to keep my hand in," Martin said.