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Harpers Ferry tourism bill on its way to governor

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate approved changes Tuesday made by the House of Delegates to Senate Bill 657 to help the Hill Top House project in Harpers Ferry get started, but not before opponents of the bill had their final say.

The Senate voted 21-13 Tuesday to concur and pass SB 657, agreeing to minor changes made to the bill by the House, which passed the bill 88-11 Monday. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice and if signed into law, the bill will become effective May 25.

SB 657 is aimed at the Hill Top House project in Harpers Ferry, but could apply to as many as five projects that qualify for tax credits under the Tourism Development Act.

The bill gives the state Development Office authority to involve itself in tourism projects that qualify for the tourism tax credits that are in historic districts and have a minimum private investment of $25 million in Class IV municipalities, which are cities with 2,000 or fewer residents.

The Hill Top House project has become the focus of the bill. A group of investors has been wanting to renovate the dilapidated 129-room hotel. The project has been held up for the last decade by the Harpers Ferry town government, which is now seeking arbitration with SWaN Hill Top LLC, the owners of the hotel.

Only Democrat in the Senate, Bob Plymale of Wayne County, voted for SB 657.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said Republicans were being hypocritical for supporting a bill that takes local control away from the town.

“I just can’t believe that this so-called conservative body run by the Republicans is actually not upholding local control,” Unger said.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, agreed, saying the issues with the Hill Top House project should be left to the people in Harpers Ferry.

“If hypocrisy was fuel, we wouldn’t have an energy crisis,” Romano said. “I’m not from Harpers Ferry, but you know what? I am from Harrison County, W.Va., and I don’t want to give up my area’s ability to say no, too.”

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