(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two stories regarding the Thursday, June 28, meeting of the Williamson City Council.)
WILLIAMSON — Two commissioners with the Mingo County Commission attended last night’s meeting of the Williamson City Council to discuss the lack of recreational facilities within the county and the possibility of reopening the Williamson Field House.
MCC President John Mark Hubbard began with a short introduction, saying that he was “proud of this administration, proud of the city and proud to be a part of it.”
After that, Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith spoke to the council regarding recreational facilities within the county, specifically on the Williamson Field House.
“We believe that Mingo County is lacking in recreational activity,” Smith said. “We know that coal is king, but we’re trying to diversify our economy, with tourism, the Hatfield-McCoy trails and the publicity from the Hatfield-McCoy specials that recently aired.
“When people come here, they say they love our people, they love our mountains. But the one thing we hear is that people need more things to do around here.
“This not only affects tourism, but also our youth.”
Smith said that kids have many more temptations in this day and age and that they “had many more opportunities to be led astray.”
Understanding that both the city and the county has a limited budget (Mingo County runs on roughly $7 million), Smith said that the MCC would like to take existing facilities and make them better.
“The Field House is very dear to me as I’m sure it is to all of you,” Smith said. “Now that consolidation has come and gone, there’s now more Wolfpack games held there anymore. I don’t like that it’s not being used. It’s a great piece of history and tradition. I remember walking in there as a kid and thinking it felt like the Boston Garden with the floors and the banners.
“So we’re offering a joint-venture with the city to re-open the Field House.”
Examples that Smith gave were an open gym for people to play basketball in, a possibility of forming leagues and potentially host Zumba classes. Smith also noted the popularity of walking the flood wall, but said that the Field House’s upstairs hallways work as a substitute for that in the winter.
Smith said that Judge’s Work Program could provide free labor to have the Field House cleaned and painted and that the MCC would look into finding personnel to operate it.
“We don’t want it to seem like the county is taking something away from the city,” Smith said, “but like it’s assisting for all of the county.”
Smith noted the difference between Boone County, which he acknowledged has access to more money, and Mingo County.
“They have Water Ways and Putt-Putt golf,” Smith said.
“We could be the Pigeon Forge of West Virginia. And whenever I go to Pigeon Forge, I play putt-putt golf. I am a putt-putt machine.
“And I think we could get funding for a state-of-the-art putt-putt golf course near the pool,” Smith said. “It could be Hatfield-McCoy themed. We could upgrade the tennis courts. We’ve got a lot of great things, they just need a little bit of TLC. We want to help give them that.
“I’m confident that with this mayor, this council and this commission, we can get it done.”
One issue that Mayor Darrin McCormick found in this plan was the Field House’s recent designation as a historic building and worries about the current roof. Both Smith and McCormick expressed concern about repairing it as needed to maintain the designation as given from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. As far as McCormick said he knew, as long as the outside appearance stayed the same as the original architecture, the inside could be modernized.
“We need to come up with a formal plan to figure out how to fix things,” McCormick said. “To me, this request comes at the perfect time since we are working on our campground.”
Possible plans for a reopened Field House would be two nights during the week and one night on the weekend to start out, Smith said. However, nothing is set in stone.
“But I want to see it start,” Smith said of the Field House’s reopening.
However, Smith said that the MCC would not feel comfortable without a place in overseeing operations in a reopened Field House.
“In order for us to feel comfortable in spending the amount of money we’re considering spending, we need to have some say at the table,” Smith said.
McCormick said that a possibility of the MCC getting that spot may already exist within current framework.
“This is not a donation to the city,” Smith said.
The mayor agreed.
“This is a proposition to come together recreationaly to help the county, not the city, but the county,” McCormick said.
“I believe that if we come together and help the county, people will take more pride in the county,” Councilman Matthew Thornsbury said.
Delegate Justin Marcum (D-District 20) was also in attendance for the meeting and had an opportunity to speak.
“I agree with John Mark and Hootie,” Marcum said. “We have a good chance in Williamson to capitalize on recreation. Thirty years ago, Pigeon Forge was just a few hotels. Now look at it. It’s our time to capitalize.”
No actions were taken during the discussion of the Field House’s potential reopening.
“Let’s get this in writing so we can have a water slide at the pool, have our Field House cleaned up and painted and so that I can beat John Mark in putt-putt,” Smith said.