Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 24, 2013

Multi-purpose center: Site selection process narrows

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Property located near Exit 14 now appears to be the preferred site for the long-planned multi-purpose center/equestrian park project for Mercer County. With the site selection process finally winding down, it is now imperative for officials to expedite the funding search and ultimate development of this long gestating project.

Although seven properties were originally considered for the development, the list was recently narrowed to three. Those three sites were the Leatherwood property in Bluefield, Va., and two pieces of land located near Exit 14. A report released last week to members of the Mercer County Development Authority concluded that the Leatherwood property would be cost prohibitive for the development.

The new report found that having a multi-purpose center near Exit 14 would provide the  greatest economic impact to the area, according to Mercer County Commission President Mike Vinciguerra. “The Leatherwood property was going to cost a whole lot more,” Vinciguerra said of the work needed to prepare the largely Virginia-side site.

 The Leatherwood property, which is being actively marketed, was once the proposed site of a large-scale shopping center and residential development. However, that project was ultimately stalled with the onset of the Great Recession in 2009.

So we are now down to two sites for the multi-purpose center. However, authority members didn’t make a final decision last week regarding which of the two sites near Exit 14  would be selected for the development. We would urge the authority members, and the multi-purpose park committee, to expedite that decision.

The proposed multi-purpose center/equestrian park vision for Mercer County dates back to more than seven years ago. In 2006, the authority began studying properties owned jointly by the Mercer County Commission, the city of Princeton and the city of Bluefield. But that land was later determined to be unsuitable for the project.

Stafford Consultants, Inc. in Princeton later compiled a list of six properties in Mercer and Tazewell counties for the development. Criteria such as acreage, highway access and utilities were considered for the development. Vinciguerra says the facility would provide a boost to Mercer County’s economy, and would serve not only for equestrian functions, but also large-scale gatherings such as the Bluefield Coal Show.

We believe the multi-purpose center/equestrian park project would still be a good fit for the region. But if officials are truly serious about developing this multi-purpose center, it is long past time to get the ball rolling on this development. A final site must be selected — and selected soon. Then officials have to figure out where they are going to get the funding needed to develop the project. And last but not least, we actually have to build the multi-purpose center.

There is much work to be done, and too much time has already been wasted on multiple studies.