CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Despite criticism of the project, former West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton came up with the idea for a statewide craft center along the West Virginia toll highway ago 25 years. With that idea came the Tamarack Marketplace along Interstate-77 in Beckley, which turns 25 on Saturday.
David Dickirson, a former member of the Parkways Authority board of directors and chairman of Caperton’s economic, development and tourism committee, told MetroNews that looking back over the past 25 years and the facility today, everything it was worth it.
“We finally came up with the idea of a large craft center located along the promenade that we hoped could capture a number of people, most of whom would be out of state. It turned out we did. Up to half a million a year go through Tamarack now, ”Dickirson said.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Caperton and his staff began upgrading the rest areas along the toll motorway with a small percentage of a $ 143 million bond issued by Parkways Authority. At the Princeton Center grand opening, which included food, music and crafts, Caperton told Dickirson that was when the idea for the Tamarack was born.
“Gov. Caperton came for this opening and he made the comment to me and Mrs. (That) Burge that the atmosphere with the sights, sounds, smells. He said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had something like this every day in West Virginia, not just a one day or three day festival.”
According to Tamarack’s website, Burge, then director of economic development and tourism, and officials began meeting with artisans from across the state to develop a marketing strategy and how to get there. Dickirson said the governor’s staff even visited other states that had similar craft centers.
In May 1993, the project was awarded to Clint Bryan and his associates, Doug Bastian and John Harris. A Beckley firm, Radford and Radford, won the construction contract, according to Tamarack.
On August 8, 1994, the official opening took place, where visitors sampled dishes from the Greenbrier, including the fried green tomatoes that have become a Tamarack signature.
The Tamarack, which currently features thousands of West Virginia-made products and a fine art gallery, opened in May 1996. COVID-19 has forced the anniversary celebration to be postponed to the spring.
Dickirson said after the first weekend it was open he knew it was a success.
“I called the governor around 9:30 am on a Monday morning because we opened the weekend and gave him the total sales for the weekend, Saturday and Sunday. We were both a little stunned, ”he recalls.
Dickirson said the controversy arose from the fact that the Parkways Authority was a quasi-governmental body. He said the authority created its own income, income and expenses, and not out of West Virginia’s budget. Dickirson said it shocked the state legislature to know that the authority was carrying out a project of this magnitude without its oversight.
Dickirson said another misconception was that taxes and tolls were spent on the construction of the Tamarack, which he said is wrong.
Tamarack’s website indicates that in October 1989, the Parkways Authority issued this $ 143 million bond with a small percentage set aside to upgrade the rest areas along the toll highway, and revenues from concession of these – and not revenues from tolls or taxes – were to finance tourism and economic development projects. .
“I think people didn’t understand what the exit, the result could be. It was a lot of money, ”Dickirson said.
Dickirson said Caperton knew the perception was that the Tamarack was not operating based on the measurements of the cash registers inside, but was looking at a larger scale. Dickirson pointed to a first economic study of the facility with the significant impact it had on the state.
Caperton had a legislative audit done and found she had over $ 18 million in the state in her early years in business.
“We felt very justified in the investment and what it was doing for West Virginia,” Dickirson said.
According to Tamarack, by the end of its first year in 1996, more than 1,300 West Virginia artisans were selling their products to Tamarack, more than 450,000 people had visited and sales had exceeded $ 3.3 million. In December of the same year, the millionth visitor walked through the doors.
In June 2003, a field conference center opened, which was sparked by the partnership with The Greenbrier.
According to Tamarack, gross revenues topped $ 78 million and purchases of goods and services topped $ 65 million. Over 2,800 artisans from fifty-five counties are now part of the Tamarack family.