Keep West Virginia Penitentiary Open
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Amend HB 4338 and SB 369, delete Section 15-A-2-23 to keep this facility open to the public.
I saw this post on the public Facebook page of West Virginia Pen and I started this petition because this facility needs to remain open. I spent a wonderful weekend in Moundsville with my family, we came just to tour this wonderful building. It is a cherished memory that I shared with my family and hope to repeat someday. This petition was started by me, without any prompting from anyone.
While in Moundsville, we stayed in a local hotel, we ate at local restaurants and shopped at small businesses in the city of Moundsville. We also toured the famous mounds and the Palace of Gold. My family and I are proof of the fact that this penitentiary brings much-needed tourist dollars to the city of Moundsville and the state of West Virginia. Following is the Facebook post:
The West Virginia Division of Corrections vacated the West Virginia State Penitentiary in 1995 and a group of enterprising local business leaders and individuals, known as the Moundsville Economic Development Council (MEDC), made the decision to become stewards of the abandon facility and created a destination tourist attraction for historians, school and tour groups, television shows, movies, photographers, paranormal investigators, the Elizabethtown Festival, a nationally ranked haunted house and an Escape Room Game. Over the last 22 years, the prison has welcomed nearly a million visitors inside the walls of the location listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1999 the MEDC secured a 25-year lease on the facility. The lease was updated in 2004 and should continue through 2029, however, this week, the MEDC was informed their lease could be severed this summer.
Delegates Mike Ferro and Joe Canestraro, discovered the language in a bill introduced in the WV House of Delegates. The legislation is designed to consolidate the Division of Corrections, Regional Jail Authority and Department of Juvenile Services, but also adds a section stating “All current leases for or involving the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville…are hereby abolished immediately. The commissioner is authorized, as lessor, to lease the West Virginia penitentiary in Moundsville, for a term of not more than five years.” The legislation continues with “any agreement entered into under this section shall be with the consent and approval of the Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, and shall include a provision within each agreement allowing for the immediate termination by the secretary or commissioner at any time.” The bill will also cause the Marshall County Adult Education services to be discontinued until another location can be determined.
Disappointingly, the companion bill in the Senate (SB 369) is sponsored by senators representing Marshall County: Senators Maroney and Clements.
Not only is the former penitentiary popular for travelers, locals have the advantage to utilize the Moundsville Center as an event center for fundraisers, wedding receptions, business expos, meetings, and conferences. Over 30 such events will take place between January and June.
Delegates Ferro and Canestraro, and MEDC Executive Director Suzanne Park met with representatives of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety on Tuesday, and they indicated the Division of Culture and History could possibly step in, however, there is no word as to how events scheduled at the Moundsville Center or tours will be handled after July.
The legislation, HB 4338, has been reviewed in the House Judiciary Committee and is now in the House Finance Committee.
Since 1996, the MEDC has been providing tours of the historic facility for school groups, bus groups, families, domestic and international travelers. In order to pay the bills and continue to maintain the facility the non-profit organization has had to become creative. Events such as:
• A haunted house weekends in September and October (this year the Dungeon of Horrors was ranked #5 nationally)
• Paranormal Investigations
• Twilight Tours
• Signature events: the Elizabethtown Festival, the Princess Tea, Superheroes Party, Kid’s Night and Family Night during October
• Escape Room Games
The organization also books fundraisers, wedding receptions, business expos, meetings, dinners and parties in the Moundsville Center located inside the North Yard of the facility.
In 2017 the MEDC generated over $600,000 in gift shop sales, tours and activities – for every dollar spent on travel & tourism, 3.2 dollars are generated in the local economy…that’s $1,920,000 in economic development!
Last year the organization was able to purchase property on the corner of Jefferson and 10th Street and paved it for additional parking. They also cleared, graded and graveled an abandon lot on the south-east side of the Penitentiary and installed lighting in the new parking areas to add 100 parking spaces for events held at the prison.
It takes a significate amount of work and people to keep the former penitentiary running, repaired, activities fresh and bills paid. The MEDC does not receive assistance for general operating expenses. The MEDC receives no funding support from the state or federal government.
However, the MEDC, Marshall County Historical Society and Moundsville Landmarks Commission partnered to apply for and was awarded a grant for $16,000 to begin a planning and development study for the first floor of the former administration area. The hope is to create a museum-like space to display artifacts and historical information about the area and prison.
That dream may never happen.
Moundsville and Marshall County will lose the economic impact this tourist attraction offers if the MEDC cannot maintain the lease and continue to provide tours and events at the prison. By removing one paragraph in a bill that focuses on streamlining corrections, the regional jail authority, and juvenile services, thousands of travelers and visitors can continue to explore the history and mystery of the former Penitentiary, jobs will not be lost and the community will not suffer another economic loss due to the forced abandonment of the facility once again.
So what NEEDS TO HAPPEN?????
Contact your delegates, senators and Governor Justice strongly urging them to delete code section 15A-2-23 "Title to property of state institutions; custody of deeds and other muniments of title" in HB 4338 and SB 369.
Specifically remove the following: All current leases for or involving the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville, title to which is vested in the Commissioner, are hereby abolished immediately. The commissioner is authorized, as lessor, to lease the West Virginia penitentiary in Moundsville, title to which is vested in the state by prior enactment of this article, for a term of not more than five years. Any agreement entered into under this section shall be with the consent and approval of the Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, and shall include a provision within each agreement allowing for the immediate termination by the secretary or commissioner at any time.
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