Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 26, 2013

It does appear we are on the verge of something good happening

Robert Farley, executive director of the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, is frequently quoted as saying that the region is “right on the edge of something really good happening.” I tend to agree with him. Just look around at some of the positive things that are already happening.

A new strip mall is being constructed in Princeton that will house a Sweet Frog yogurt chain and three other businesses. Dunkin Donuts is still coming to Princeton, and Chick Fil A is looking for a new stand-alone site near Exit 9 in Princeton. Triple A, also known as the Bluefield Automobile Club, is moving across the state line to fill one of the few remaining vacancies in the Ridge View Shopping Plaza in Bluefield, Va. And McDonald’s at the adjoining College Avenue Shopping Plaza is going to be demolished and rebuilt in 90 days with a newer facility.

McDonald’s on Bluefield Avenue on the West Virginia side, as well as the McDonald’s on Stafford Drive in Princeton, also both recently underwent similar renovations. The Bluefield Preservation Society, which already owns the historic Granada Theater in downtown Bluefield, is now hoping to transform the old Bluefield Automobile Club building into a museum filled with local exhibits as well as a model railroading exhibit and more. It’s a part of their larger depot district vision for the downtown area. Construction on the new dialysis center on Bluefield Avenue also appears to be nearing completion, and a new development looks to be taking shape at the former Richwood Golf Course in Bluefield, Va.

The new dental school project appears to be on a fast track toward reality in Tazewell County, as does the long-planned Spearhead Trails project, which should nicely complement the existing Hatfield-McCoy Trail system near Bramwell. And a second Hatfield-McCoy Trail system is now being planned for McDowell County that aims to connect the cities of War, Gary and Welch.

Yet that one giant spark — or large-scale development that is needed to push the region over the proverbial tipping  point — still remains somewhat evasive. That one big project is probably what Farley envisions as the catalyst for much larger growth in our region.

But what will that one big project be? The Bluefield College School of Dental Medicine? Quite possibly. Once it is up and running in 2015, we should see additional developments follow at and around the Bluestone Technology Park. Or is it the long-planned multi-purpose center project for Mercer County — formerly known as the equestrian park. Perhaps, but the development of this project is still far behind and a site still hasn’t been chosen for the facility.

How about the Colonial Intermodal Center project in downtown Bluefield? Maybe. But that’s only if the five newly elected members of the Bluefield Board of Directors opt to continue with this project. And, if they do, they will still need to find millions more in additional federal dollars to build the actual intermodal center.

Or could it be Target and Home Depot? The two-long requested big box chains have been looking at property along the U.S. Route 460 and Interstate 77 corridor near Princeton. But no one seems to know at this point just how interested they are. Are they simply exploring sites for potential future growth. Or are they giving the greater Princeton corridor serious consideration for a near-term development. There is little question that a Target or Home Depot, or preferably both, could spark additional commercial growth in our region. And when you ask folks what they would like to see in the area, two common responses are “Target” and “Home Depot.”

It does seem like pieces of the puzzle are slowly coming together. The economy continues to slowly improve, although no one at this point seems to know how the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, will impact business growth. We won’t see a full implementation of the Affordable Care Act until later this fall, so the guessing game and waiting game continues for many. And a lot of average folks still have no idea what is in the Affordable Care Act, and how it will effect them. Although I think a growing number of people do realize now that they will be required to carry health insurance, or face a federal penalty. The lawmakers who voted to pass the Affordable Care Act clearly didn’t do a good job explaining what it is to their constituents, and how it will impact them.

But we can remain hopeful. We do appear to be on the verge of a turning point. Small growth is leading to bigger growth. We do seem to be on the edge of something really good happening. But it could take that one big project to really get the economic development ball rolling.

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

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