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Can a city increase its revenue base by building a sustainable community center?

3 min read


In 1944, Shinnston, W.Va., was devastated by a tornado and dozens of people lost their lives in a community only a few miles from coal mines. Although the community rebuilt itself, it faced economic difficulties in the 1980s and 1990s as did other small towns. It has recovered some and now has plans for a city centerpiece.

Shinnston Community Building. Rendering by: WYK Associates

An old theater building that took up a city block at the entrance to the historic downtown was donated to the city, but leaks and disrepair rendered it unsafe and unusable, creating “a definite sense of economic depression in the downtown,” said Emma Clarke, Shinnston’s chief financial officer. The city demolished that building and West Virginia-based WYK Associates designed a community center that Clarke hopes will bring “greater resident satisfaction, a heightened sense of community pride and loyalty and a sense of progress.”

Shinnston, with just over 2,200 residents, wants to rebuild, prosper and recover. It’s starting a capital campaign to build a community center focused on sustainability — “green principles and building methods, economic impact and social continuity,” as Clarke explains it.

Clarke says the building will:

  • Be the first sustainable building in the downtown area.
  • Be energy efficient to save on operational costs.
  • Have a large gathering space for social events, conferences and concerts.
  • Make use of indigenous building materials to decrease its carbon footprint and to support local suppliers.
  • Incorporate historic elements in its design “to embody the community’s history and spirit.”
  • Use chairs recycled from the original theater that will be grouped on the second floor around a 20-foot-by-20-foot natural light shaft and serve as a “living historical exhibit.”

The city was awarded a grant for technical assistance for a capital campaign from the West Virginia Development Office and is in the process of finding that assistance. It plans to pay for the building through donations, grants and loans.

The aim of the center is lofty and multipronged: to showcase the Shinnston City Administration as setting the sustainable standard and to lead by example in its respect for the “beautiful natural surroundings and responsibility to future generations,” says Clarke.

“The community center building will be the heart of the community,” she adds. It will be “a destination not just for our own residents, but also those from surrounding areas [and] will bring traffic to the downtown area during times that are currently quiet. This in turn could create a need for restaurants and cafes to open. It will provide a sense of redevelopment and renewal, which in turn will encourage other property owners to improve their buildings.”

When all of that comes to fruition, the city expects to see an increase in revenue from business and occupations taxes, as well as property taxes when outsiders move in and property values increase.