Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When the Princeton City Council voted back in 2012 to move city hall to the old First Community Bank site on Mercer Street, the idea raised more than a few eyebrows and left the seven member council divided.
Part of the dilemma was the fact that New River Community and Technical College also was looking at the old bank building as a site for a new downtown campus. Many correctly viewed the thought of a college campus on Mercer Street, and an influx of hundreds of students in the downtown area, as an exciting prospect that would boost ongoing downtown revitalization efforts. And some felt the city was standing in the way of this tremendous downtown development. Another concern was the cost the city would incur in moving city hall from its current location on Courthouse Road to the downtown area.
However, a compromise agreement reached last year appeared to be acceptable for both the city and the college. The plan was to move both city hall and New River Community and Technical College into the old bank building together. And ongoing renovations at the site have been geared toward meeting that goal.
However, a new proposal has emerged that could be the ultimate win-win for all involved.
Richard Preservati, owner of the former Dean Company property location near Stafford Drive, has offered to donate the property to the city to serve as a new municipal complex with recreational opportunities. The property includes a building with approximately 10,000 square feet of office and warehouse space with a 34-acre parcel of land.
Then, as part of the new proposal, New River Community and Technical College would acquire all of the old bank building as the permanent home of a Mercer County-Princeton campus, according to City Manager Elke Doom. That, in return, would ensure an influx of hundreds of students to Mercer Street, providing a welcomed boost to downtown merchants and ongoing revitalization efforts.
The Princeton City Council and the Princeton Building Commission will hold a joint public meeting this evening beginning at 6 p.m. to discuss the new proposal. And Doom says the college is scheduled to come before the two boards tonight to discuss the option or possibility of acquiring the bank building as the permanent home of a Mercer County-Princeton campus. The idea has already divided the council members, according to Mayor Patricia Wilson. And Wilson says she is opposed to the proposal — arguing that city hall should be in the downtown.
We would encourage Wilson, and her fellow council members, to not rush to such a premature decision without proper deliberations. We believe the new proposal makes a lot of sense, and merits meaningful discussion and debate. A proper public hearing also should be scheduled in order to afford all city residents an opportunity to voice their opinions — whether pro or con — on this new idea.
It is OK for the city council to change its course if a better idea or option emerges.
It is also important to remember that city officials in Bluefield tried — and unsuccessfully at that — to get New River Community and Technical College to move to downtown Bluefield. They understood what a tremendous economic impact hundreds of college students could bring to downtown Bluefield. And that impact will be even greater for Princeton. Bringing hundreds of young people to the downtown area also would appear to be an excellent fit for the ongoing Princeton Renaissance Project initiatives.
The old Dean Company site is prime property that could serve as an excellent city hall site with room for additional recreational opportunities. And while we understand the importance of the city having a presence in the downtown area, the most important thing the city can do is ensure a strong and regular police presence in the downtown area to help deter potential crime.
Simply put, the council members must be willing to give careful consideration to this new proposal. And a proper public hearing must be scheduled to provide citizens in the city an opportunity to provide input.