Princeton’s Arts and Museum District is Growing With New Culture Center

The RiffRaff Arts Collective (RRAC) has secured and intends to redevelop three properties to establish the Lonnie Gunter, Jr. Center for Culture & History. The lots are adjacent to the Princeton Railroad Museum in the Mercer Street Historic District of downtown Princeton. One of the lots includes the Wheby’s Grocery building – a landmark in Princeton, built in 1925.

“The Lonnie Gunter, Jr. Center for Culture & History (LGC) is a legacy project, curated and intended to preserve and celebrate our state and nation’s industrial heritage,” said Lori McKinney, Executive Director, RiffRaff Arts Collective. “The development of The LGC is the next chapter of our work, and we are thrilled to be planting roots in The Historic District along with others; it is an exciting time for Historic East End Princeton.”  

The late Mr. Gunter was a brilliant mind and an avid collector. He collected a treasure trove of culturally significant artifacts which help preserve the industrial and cultural history of our state and nation. 

“My father’s collection encompasses an incredible body of artifacts including steam engines, early vehicles, agricultural machinery and equipment, antique toys and memorabilia,” said Marcie Gabor, daughter and curator of Mr. Gunter’s collection, “Dad collected these items throughout his lifetime in Southern West Virginia. His dream was to preserve the past to share with future generations.”

“The LGC will be a destination full of wonder and inspiration where friends, families, students, educators, makers, enthusiasts, tourists and children of all ages will want to visit again and again,” said Robert Blankenship, grandson of Mr. Gunter, Creative/Technical Director of RRAC and husband of Lori McKinney. 

“The LGC along with the iconic Railroad Museum, an Agricultural Museum, and the recently announced Mythical Collectors Unauthorized Vehicle Museum, will firmly establish Princeton’s Museum District – the designation that will anchor the community in West Virginia’s heritage and tourism industry,” added Lori McKinney.

Proposed programming includes extensive exhibit space, a restoration workshop with an immersive STEAM education and workforce training program, a West Virginia artists’ gallery, event venue and a period soda fountain ice cream parlor. 

The Center is one of many exciting projects currently in development within the dynamic renaissance of downtown Princeton.

The LGC will be locally driven by the RiffRaff Arts Collective with support from the City of Princeton and the Lonnie Gunter Center Development Committee.

Members of the Lonnie Gunter Center Development Committee include:

Christy Bailey, National Coal Heritage Area Authority
Robert Blankenship, Creative/Technical Director, RiffRaff Arts Collective, Grandson of Lonnie Gunter, Jr.
Marcie Gabor, Branding Director, Curator, Daughter of Lonnie Gunter, Jr.
David Graham, Mayor, Princeton, WV
Kate Greene, Redevelopment Director, Atlas Community Studios 
Lori McKinney, Executive Director, RiffRaff Arts Collective
Mike Webb, City Manager, Princeton, WV

Supporters include: The H.P. & Anne S. Hunnicutt Foundation, Inc., West Virginia Division of Culture and History, National Coal Heritage Area Authority and the WVU Center for Resilient Communities.

The LGC will begin in phases and a timeline and budget are under development.

To learn more about the LGC, visit theriffraff.net/lgc

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Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

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Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.