Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 7, 2014

Planning for the future: Blueprint Communities key to growth

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Six communities across West Virginia, including the cities of Bluefield and Princeton, have been quietly planning for future growth over the past year as part of the WVHub Blueprint Communities initiative. It is an important process that should help in laying the foundation for future growth.

As part of the first phase of the Blueprint Communities initiative, Bluefield, Princeton, Hinton, Marlinton, Sophia and Richwood all outlined their draft plans Monday at the state Cultural Center. Once the planning stage is finished, the key to success for the six communities will be what happens in the second phase, which includes the actual implementation of the plan, according to WVHub director Kent Spellman.

“They’re all doing remarkable things,” Spellman said earlier this week. “Everyone is at a different level. They’re all going after different projects. I think we’re going to see every one of these teams do remarkable things in their communities.”

The plans all consider demographics, challenges and trends. For the city of Bluefield, which recorded a still declining population of 10,447 during the last U.S. Census count in 2010, there are multiple challenges. Those obstacles for Bluefield discussed by the group Monday include a lack of lack of civic engagement, a lack of ongoing connection between the city and Bluefield State College, redeveloping the downtown area and leveraging energy and transportation assets for business development, the Register-Herald reported.

The Blueprint team has set three “smart goals” for each of those challenges, including engaging as many as 40 businesses in quarterly “chat and chew” sessions involving city officials; promoting open forums and community service projects with college student involvement; encouraging renewed business focus on the college student market; the development of a natural gas refueling station; and creating a positive perception of the downtown area.

Josh Kline, the city’s economic redevelopment and planning director, correctly calls the Blueprint Communities planning process a “good beginning” and “learning experience.” He says what city officials learned most about is exactly what they need to do to overcome one of the obstacles in their path — “civic engagement.”

And all six communities — including Bluefield and Princeton — are looking for renewed ways to get their citizens engaged in the building and rebuilding process of their towns and cities.

Critical to the future success of the Blueprint Communities planning for Bluefield will be a renewed and productive relationship with Bluefield State College. Kline says BSC President Dr. Marsha Krotseng has a new vision for the college working in conjunction with the city. That’s important — as the college is and should be an important part of the downtown hub. Princeton, in return, also appears to be on the verge of a significant win-win plan that will bring hundreds of New River Community and Technical College students to the downtown Mercer Street area, providing a welcomed boost to ongoing downtown revitalization efforts.

We applaud all six municipalities — Bluefield and Princeton in particular — for their ongoing participation in the Blueprint Communities planning initiative. One of the greatest stumbling blocks for municipalities across the region in recent years has been a lack of vision and planning for future growth.

Having such a plan is absolutely critical. And the plan can’t be ignored or forgotten once it is finished. It instead must be a working document.