Five years ago, the site of the old Drexel Heritage furniture plant was full of massive piles of debris and the ruins of partially demolished buildings. The place literally looked like a war zone that had been bombed.

Now, the huge piles of brick, mortar, wood, aluminum and steel have been removed and the site can eventually become the home for a new industry or business.

The Marion City Council heard the latest news about the cleanup of the Drexel Heritage site during the regular meeting on Tuesday. This meeting was held at Addie’s Chapel United Methodist Church in the West Marion community.

Planning Director Heather Cotton, who has worked on this big project from the beginning, told the council members about how much better the place looks now compared to the way it looked in 2014.

“If you have not been by the Drexel site, you should go by,” said Cotton to the City Council. “It is absolutely amazing. It looks so much better now.”

The big problem started in the summer of 2014 when the owner of the property at that time started demolishing the old plant complex. This site was then owned by Marion Property LLC, which in turn was owned by Fred Godley of Cornelius. Later, Godley declared he was not able to complete the demolition, stopped the work and indicated he wished to donate the property to the city of Marion and McDowell County.

As a result, the huge remnants and debris of this old plant were plainly visible from the Cross Mill community and Blue Ridge Terrace Apartments. The unsightly mess could also be seen from West Henderson Street.

In order to get this site cleaned, the city of Marion worked to find grant money from both the state and federal governments. The grant money was approved but environmental assessments had to be done, which made the cost higher. Just finding a contractor to do the job got complicated but eventually the firm of D.H. Griffin Companies was selected. It is headquartered in Greensboro and has offices in Hickory, Asheville and other cities.

“I can’t thank our contractor enough,” said Cotton to the council. “We’re very pleased with this project.”

City Manager Bob Boyette said the total cost of the Drexel project is expected to end up a little less than $1.3 million, which includes $950,000 in state and federal grants and contributions of just over $170,000 each from the city of Marion and McDowell County.

Now, the 15-acre site is owned by both local governments and they plan to market it for new industries. It has water and sewer service and access to a railroad.

In other business, the Marion City Council:

• Heard a presentation from Paula Swepson Avery and Dawna Goode-Ledbetter with the West Marion Community Forum. Members of the forum recently took a six-day trip to see landmarks and museums in the Deep South that tell the history of the Civil Rights Movement. They visited museums and historical sites in Montgomery, Ala., Birmingham, Ala., New Orleans and Atlanta that vividly tell how African-Americans were the victims of lynchings and terrorism by racists and how they overcame much of that oppression during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. These museums remind visitors how much more work remains now in the struggle for equality and justice in America. The West Marion forum leaders showed city officials a video of their journey.

• Approved the closing of Oak Avenue for a neighborhood block party on the Fourth of July.

• Heard an update from Boyette about the stormwater culvert project underneath the Marion Community Building’s park. When that is repaired, the city can finally start to work on improvements to the park including new playground equipment that is accessible for children with disabilities. The goal is to have it open again by the spring of 2020.

• Heard an update about the placement of new signs for the McDowell Transit System. There will be 21 stops in Marion for the vehicles providing public transportation. Transit Director Randall Conley was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting so Cotton spoke on his behalf. The request was for the city to allow the signs letting people know where the stops are. Council granted this request. “I look forward to seeing them,” said Councilwoman Ann Harkey. For more information, call 828-559-0744 or visit https://mcdowell-transit.business.site/

• Adjourned the meeting in memory of David Goode, the uncle of Dawna Goode-Ledbetter.

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