CHARLES TOWN – Maryland voters’ decision last month to OK a casino in suburban Prince George’s County – and the repurcussions the change will mean for Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races – has been selected as the top business story of 2012 by the editors at the Spirit of Jefferson.
Other important business developments this year included Macy’s opened a giant fulfillment center in the Panhandle, protests by area commuters against a proposal to alter the MARC commuter train schedule and the controversial plan to put a CVS pharmacy in historic downtown Charles Town.
A look at the Top Five list of local business stories for the previous 12 months:
1. Hollywood’s parent company, Penn National Gaming, spent more than $42 million in hopes of defeating Maryland’s Question 7 casino expansion. Voters who cast ballots during in the Nov. 6 general election gave the thumbs-up to the issue by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent.
With the bidding process set to begin in January, it appears likely MGM Resorts International will win the green light to go ahead with plans for an $800 million hotel-casino development.
The passage of Question 7 also allows Maryland’s existing and planned slot machine-only casinos to introduce table games. It also lowers the state’s gaming tax from 67 percent.
2. Macy’s opens a giant fulfillment center in the Panhandle. Merchandise began to be shipped from the new Macy’s Internet fulfillment center in July. The 1.3-million-square-foot facility at 333 Caperton Blvd. in the Cumbo Yard Industrial Park in Martinsburg will employ about 1,200 people and hundreds of seasonal workers when it’s fully operational. That should happen next year or early in 2014.
3. Area commuters protest a proposal to alter the MARC commuter train schedule. Despite a letter from West Virginia’s top transportation exec to his counterpart in Maryland saying Panhandle commuters are “almost unanimously opposed” to altering the MARC train schedule, the MARC is now operating with changes.
The Brunswick Line includes three stops in West Virginia: at Harpers Ferry and Duffields in Jefferson County and at Caperton Train Station in Martinsburg. Every weekday, hundreds of commuters in the Panhandle take the MARC to one of the D.C. suburbs or all the way to Union Station.
4. The controversial plan to put a CVS pharmacy in historic downtown Charles Town moved ahead. The city of Charles Town, the planning commission and the Charles Town Historic Landmarks Commission all approved the project even though four buildings in the Downtown Charles Town Historic District needed to be razed to make room for the pharmacy on Washington Street.
5. John Reisenweber beats out dozens of applicants to become the new executive director of the Jefferson County Economic Development Authority.
Formerly a commercial lender at Centra Bank in Martinsburg, Reisenweber, took over the job in February.
Reisenweber also has worked in U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s regional office, where his focus included economic development, agriculture and other issues.
6. Farm markets expand. Both the downtown Charles Town and the Morgan’s Grove Market just outside Shepherdstown grew in 2012. MGM Market organizer Peter Corum said he hoped his market will build economic sustainability in the Shepherdstown and Eastern Panhandle communities.
Corum, a branch manager at Franklin American Mortgage Company, said in the past five years he has seen a lot of economic hardship on locals through loss of homes and jobs. And as an advocate of entrepreneurship, he hopes the model created through the market can help some people get back on their feet.
7. Businesses move and expand. Besides the Spirit of Jefferson’s move to Charles Street in December after nearly a century on North George Street, other businesses opening or expanding this year included Black Dog Coffee in Bardane, Allegany Optical from 76 Somerset Blvd. near Gold’s Gym to its own, separate site at 838 Somerset Blvd. and the Paddy’s restaurant and pub in downtown Charles Town.
8. Luke Loy, the hairstylist who made international news in Martinsburg for his involvement in a 2010 Lady Gaga concert bruhaha, has opened a salon in Charles Town.
The saga began when a then-friend of Loy’s announced that he’d signed the Grammy-winning rock star along with Adam Lambert of “American Idol” fame to come to Sam Michaels Park near Shepherdstown for a concert that would help launch Loy’s new line of hair products.
Soon The Journal in Martinsburg ran a front-page article about the April show, complete with photos of Gaga and Lambert.
Though many in the Panhandle were skeptical from the instant that the tale hit news stands, others bought in and began paying $100 or more per ticket.
But within days of The Journal story’s publication, it was clear Gaga and Lambert never were headed to a performance in a Panhandle park. Law enforcement officers opened an investigation into fraud claims against both Loy and his friend, a client who worked as an event promoter.
By that May, the two were facing felony charges for obtaining money under false pretenses. When questions about the concert’s validity arose and then authorities became involved, Loy said that although he hadn’t kept any of the proceeds from ticket sales, he wanted to make things right for those who’d spent money on a concert that never came to be.
He asked his mother to lend him money from her retirement account. “She knew I was innocent, and because of the people we are, we knew we had to do the right thing,” he said. After refund checks were issued to all ticket purchasers, officials dropped all charges against both Loy and DeSana.
The path to Loy’s current happiness started over the summer after he and his partner, Chuck Larochelle, found a “for sale” sign on a house at 332 N. Mildred St. in Charles Town. “I’d been wanting to move back to Jefferson County,” said Loy, whose parents, children and three grandchildren all live in the area. Loy plans an official open house for Hair By Luke in January.
9. American Public University System in Charles Town unveiled a solar power system in April that’s said to be the state’s largest such project. It boasts more than 1,600 solar panels on a canopy structure in the parking lot behind the new APUS Financial Center.
10. Harpers Ferry modernizes its business and occupation tax. In February, members of the Harpers Ferry Town Council authorized measures aimed at updating its tax system – and to get tough on tax evaders.
Explained Council member Jerry Hutton at the time: “Our ordinances are based on a repealed state statute that gave us authority as long as we were in compliance with the statute (but the statute) was repealed in 1989.”
Town officials won help from the state Municipal League: a model ordinance that’s in line with the current code.
Council member Greg Vaughn said the change gives the town much greater authority. “If there is a business in the municipality that is not paying their B & O tax or if the municipality thinks the business is possibly underreporting, the state of West Virginia gives authority to municipalities to obtain income information from the state,” he said.