Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

August 7, 2013

New leaders, renewed hope for Mercer Street and a lack of regional warming

— — When you talk to folks across the region, there appears to be a general consensus that the weather has been more than a little off so far this summer. But at least the mercury has finally reached the 80-degree mark once again. That’s a significant improvement over what we’ve seen for the past two or three weeks.

The trend lately has been cloudy skies, rain and more rain. And for a while, we were struggling to hit the 70-degree marker. Mornings also have been a lot cooler than they should be for this time of the year. Yes, Bluefield is Nature’s Air-Conditioned City, but this is somewhat unusual. It’s supposed to be hot and humid outside.

It’s not unusual to see people walking around with long-sleeve shirts on and, in some instances, sweaters. Each trip to the park — in hopes of getting a little exercise walking — is greeted with a dark cloud that is looming menacingly high above. But normally the rain threat fails to materialize.

Living in the country doesn’t help matters a lot, as it always seems to be a little cooler each morning nestled against the mountain as opposed to living in the city proper limits of Bluefield or Princeton. I know that there are some people out there who are just waiting to say this is the direct result of climate change and global warming. But hence the name global warming, you would think it would actually be getting a lot warmer outside. It’s August after all. We should be sweating up a storm. What happened to the 90-degree lemonade days?

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The city of Princeton has been back in the news in recent days. City officials are apparently getting closer toward opening bids on the new city hall, police department, college campus combo project. Potential contractors got their first look last week at the former First Community Bank building on Mercer Street. The old bank building is the proposed site of a new city hall and police station for Princeton, and a new campus for New River Community and Technical College.

Bids for the project are expected to be opened on Aug. 15, according to City Manager Elke Doom. New River Community and Technical College is hoping to increase enrollment at its Mercer County campus to 450 or 500 students at the new Mercer Street site. The college currently has 150 students enrolled at its temporary site at the Mercer County Career and Technical Education Center.

The news is exciting because of the potential it brings to Mercer Street. Having hundreds of students attending college in the area would provide a huge boost to downtown merchants. The college kids will need places to eat while attending school, and will be looking to shop in their spare time as well. This could be just the shot in the arm that the downtown area needed. City officials in Bluefield also competed for a New River campus in downtown Bluefield, but it apparently wasn’t meant to be for Nature’s Air-Conditioned City.

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Speaking of Bluefield, expectations are high — perhaps too high — for the five newly elected city board members. Mayor Tom Cole, and council members Barbara Thompson Smith, Ellen Light, Mike Gibson and Chuck McGonagle were all sworn into office last week. I know a lot of people are anxious and eager to see positive progress in the city of Bluefield, but we need to give the new leaders time to get their feet wet. Don’t expect any miracles, including a new grocery store, overnight.

The first thing the new board members must do is review the overall status of the city, and current projects, as well as controversial ordinances such as the new pit bull law. They also must decide on whether to proceed with the long-planned Colonial Intermodal Center project, which has been rebranded by the former board as “Roundhouse Square.” I’m not sure that I’m on board with the new name, as the project has been called the Colonial Intermodal Center for several years now. It will take time for the general public to get used to the new name, which has already been botched on the air by a local television station that referred to it as a “roadhouse” as opposed to a “roundhouse.” But the key question to be answered is if — and where — the city can find the millions needed to construct the project formerly known as the Colonial Intermodal Center.

There is no doubt that the new board faces a multitude of challenges. But with hope, and a little bit of time, the new board members should be able to make a positive difference in the city.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

 

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