Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


June 30, 2013

Vacant storefronts — Region shows slow but steady progress

— Vacant storefronts and empty, decaying buildings have been a common sight throughout southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia for years, but the number of them are gradually starting to fall. Some of them vanish thanks to local demolition programs aimed at improving neighborhoods and business districts. In other cases, new businesses and other entities are taking over vacant spaces and giving them new life.

One recent example is the plan to convert the former Princeton Public Library on Center Street into new offices for the local Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. This building became available when the old Post Office off Mercer Street was renovated and turned into the public library’s new home. Just across the street from the new library, plans are underway to renovate the old First Community Bank building and convert it into the new Princeton City Hall and new space for New River Community and Technical College. City officials hope the new influx of students will encourage more development on Mercer Street.

Vacant spaces are also being filled in Bluewell, Bramwell, downtown Bluefield, nearby Bluefield, Va., and other locations. Some of these are new shops and restaurants taking advantage of the ATV traffic being generated thanks to Mercer County’s new branch of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail. Now old storefronts are becoming the focus of investments. Even former West Virginia residents are investing in them.

Area residents could encourage the continuation of this trend by shopping locally and encouraging friends and family to visit the area. Shopping locally keeps funds in the region and supports local jobs.

Plenty of empty storefronts and buildings are still waiting for tenants. There are many that are unsuitable for anything but the bulldozer and the wrecking ball, so removing them will improve local safety and enhance property values, plus open up new space for development. Dilapidated buildings are a poor first impression for visitors while occupied structures attract interest and bring visitors back.

The trend of filling empty structures throughout the region is encouraging. The challenge now is to make sure the trend continues. Local downtowns will not fill up overnight, but even one or two new businesses encourage others to follow suit and set up shop. The fact the region is seeing a new influx of ATV riders will help fuel the trend of turning vacant structures into assets. Now all local residents and leaders need to do is help facilitate the trend by making it easier and worthwhile.

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