Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

December 7, 2012

Downtown dilemma — Challenges mounting for Bluefield

Those who have lived in the area for a number of years can certainly remember and joyfully reminisce about the glory days of downtown Bluefield.

After all, it wasn’t that long ago when the city’s historic downtown district was bustling with visitors, shoppers and large downtown anchor stores.

Although the writing had been on the wall for years prior, the ultimate turning point for the downtown began around 1979. That was when several large businesses— including J.C. Penney — decided to close up shop and relocate to the newly opened Mercer Mall located just outside the city limits.

Since then it has been a struggle for the city to revitalize its once robust downtown. Key anchors remain and continue to do well — such as Kammer Furniture Company, the Landmark Antique Mini Mall, First Century Bank and others. And there has been some new business growth in the downtown, and other parts of the city.

However, the city still faces many challenges when it comes to revitalizing the downtown. Just last week, the doors to East River Arts, a popular downtown business that also provided a live music outlet for area musicians, was closed. The business that was jointly operated by Art Riley and his wife Teresa, along with current city board member Pete Sternloff, was also a critical component to the downtown’s growing arts community. The Manor Market also recently closed adding to the downtown woes.

East River Arts was closed for a simple reason. There weren’t enough customers to break even, according to Riley. And, as Riley correctly notes, you have to have customers to keep your doors open.

Sternloff told a local television station Wednesday that another business may relocate to the site soon. If this happens, that would help.

Riley, head of the downtown merchants and a tireless crusader for downtown Bluefield, says city officials have too many different plans at the moment. He believes they should get behind one plan, and roll with it.

Riley makes an interesting point. Everyone needs to be on the same page — and in support of the same plan — if Bluefield is to move forward. We see no reason why this can’t happen with the new leadership team of City Manager Jim Ferguson and City Economic Development Director Greg Shrewsbury.

It is our hope that a plan — a dynamic and aggressive plan — can be crafted and launched soon to help Bluefield. And it must be a plan that addresses not only the downtown, but economic development across the city as a whole.

In the meantime, other challenges also remain, including the loss of Kroger — and the continued uncertainty surrounding the still vacant building that K.V.A.T. Food Stores Inc. is leasing but not currently utilizing — along with the concerns surrounding the proliferation of rental property on College Avenue.  The city’s planning commission has recommended a rezoning plan that should address the rental property concern on College Avenue. And as far as the Kroger controversy is concerned, city officials will have to become more aggressive — and vocal — in addressing the dilemma at hand.

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