Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 8, 2013

Former member defends project

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The editorial message written by Samantha Perry in the Sunday, Aug. 4, edition of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph concerning actions by the outgoing Board of Directors that left office on Aug. 1 were improperly stated. What she stated is not a factual representation of events that took place in the final two months of our tenure as members of the Bluefield City Board.

Ms. Perry made a note of “actions” that took place after the election that she considered to be inappropriate for a “lame duck” council to take. In particular she cited the Roundhouse Square and Coal Heritage Interpretive Walk and the ribbon cutting that took place two days prior to the swearing in of the new board. The Coal Heritage Interpretive Walk was the culmination of a project that started prior to our board taking office. The money that built that walk was part of a grant from the West Virginia Coal Heritage Authority and is part of the National Coal Heritage Trail celebrating the part that five southern West Virginia counties played in the history of coal in West Virginia. The West Virginia portion of the trail starts right here in Bluefield and the Interpretive Walk located in the newly named Roundhouse Square is a portion of that project. The city board, our city manager and our redevelopment director made sure that this last portion of the grant was completed in a timely manner as the funds for this significant tourist attraction would otherwise have been lost. The action to insure that this occurred was completed prior to the election including the ground-breaking ceremony that was attended by officials from the West Virginia Department of Transportation, the Coal Heritage Authority and Congressman Nick Rahall.

Reporters from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph attended both the ground-breaking ceremony held at the Bluefield Area Art Center and the ribbon cutting at Roundhouse Square and reported on both events. These events had nothing to do with the important intermodal project now referred to as Roundhouse Square.

The editorial review held at the Bluefield Daily Telegraph prior to the election during which some candidates  expressed reservations about the project also demonstrates a lack of knowledge by the Daily Telegraph as to the history of the project and what it is intended to do. Referring to the project as a “bus stop/business incubator” is inappropriate and does not do justice to the efforts made by dozens of Bluefield citizens who worked with the project manager Parsons Brinkerhoff to bring the first two phases of this important economic development project to fruition. It all started with a $600,000 earmark that was granted to Bluefield immediately after the Matz Hotel fell into the Colonial Theater by Congressman Rahall. This grant which cost the city of Bluefield nothing funded the development and completion of a shovel-ready project that will become Roundhouse Square. The completed plan will insure that Roundhouse Square will be an attractive site with construction ready pods for businesses. Now four years after the project began the completed plan has every chance of being approved by the United States Congress as part of a transportation bill at a cost of approximately $5 million dollars. It should be noted that the original proposal was looking at a potential cost of around $10 million dollars.

I do not find fault with comments made by the candidates during an election campaign at the editorial review held at the Bluefield Daily Telegraph as it was very clear that none of those expressing reservations were fully aware of the effort over the previous four years to bring this economic development project to fruition.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph reported on this project from its inception and in reality should have known that this “much ballyhooed” project is incredibly important to the city of Bluefield. The project only lacks the final phase which is the construction developing that area. Anyone who wishes can see the completed plans and drawing at city hall that would impress anyone looking at them.

Two other projects of import have been funded in West Virginia by the Federal Transit Administration are the Beckley Intermodal Gateway Project funded in 2006 to the tune of $20 million that is undergoing construction right now. Even more significant is the Huntington Pullman Square project funded by the same source to the tune of more than $27 million. The impact of both of these projects which are considered to be intermodal in nature have brought important economic development to these cities in the form of shopping malls, convention centers and business opportunities. Evidently Ms. Perry and the Bluefield Daily Telegraph do not believe that the Roundhouse Square economic development opportunity is something we need in Bluefield.

Pete Sternloff