Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


January 29, 2013

Multi-purpose center — Action needed to expedite project

Members of the Mercer County Development Authority are apparently mulling over a proposal to hire a consultant, who would be charged with overseeing the long-planned concept of a multi-purpose park for Mercer County. If that is what it takes to get this long-studied project moving — then so be it. But a few overdue decisions need to be made first.

The once proposed equestrian center, now envisioned as a multi-purpose center, is an important project that still has great potential for Mercer County. But decisions regarding this long-studied project need to be made. For starters, a site for the project needs to be chosen. After five long years of studying a handful of proposed sites, it’s time to choose a location. Then, we have to decide if this project is still financially feasible for Mercer County.

One of the proposed sites for the multi-purpose center would cost $20 million for the land alone, according to Development Authority Executive Director Janet Bailey. Where will the money come from to purchase the land and to build the actual center? Is the funding readily available now? In this age of belt-tightening and growing federal deficits, getting financial help from Washington is far from easy.

In the beginning, the cities of Bluefield and Princeton were signed on as partners for the then-equestrian park project. Back then, it was proposed on land jointly owned by the two cities. However, that jointly owned property was later determined to be unsuitable for the project, and the two cities — while remaining supportive of the multi-purpose center concept — are no longer active partners.

And one needs to look no further than the city of Bluefield for evidence of what happens when a good idea is stalled by a lack of funding. The Colonial Intermodal Center project still has great potential for downtown Bluefield. But without the estimated $12 million in federal funds needed to construct the transit center, the project remains in a state of limbo.

If the development authority hires a consultant, will this position be funded by the Mercer County Commission, and how much will this position cost the county? And is there local county funding — or private foundation funding — currently available to cover the cost of acquiring the land that the multi-purpose center will be located on? The city of Bluefield doesn’t have $12 million to build the Colonial Intermodal Center. Does Mercer County have $20 million currently available to purchase land and build the multi-purpose center? The public deserves an answer to that question.

The point is, we’ve studied this project long enough. It’s time to start making some hard decisions. We believe the multi-purpose center still has tremendous potential for Mercer County, and some of the more recent feasibility studies on the project back that argument up. In fact, the last feasibility study on the multi-purpose center, which was updated 18 months ago, found there would be a “significant economic boost” to the Mercer County area if a multi-purpose park was created. And such a park would also attract additional service jobs with motels, restaurants, convenience stores and retail opportunities, the study found. And that’s exactly what Mercer County needs right now.

But how are we going to make this happen?

If it takes a consultant to get the project rolling, then let’s hire a consultant — if the local county government can afford to do so. If we do hire this person, members of the development authority board must be able to assure the citizens of Mercer County that this project can happen, and that taxpayer dollars aren’t simply being wasted.

Let’s also make a decision on a site. Bailey says three sites are still being considered for the park with the most promising being located at Exit 14 off of I-77, near PikeView High School. So what’s the holdup? Why, after five years of study, has a new site for the project not been selected?

The development authority board meets again on Feb. 19. The board is expected to consider hiring a project consultant at that time. Decisions regarding this long-planned project are going to have to be made — sooner rather than later. It’s time for action. And if it is determined that this project is no longer feasible, or that funding is not available, then county officials must be willing to concede defeat, and come up with a new economic development project that is feasible for Mercer County.

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