Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

December 29, 2013

Bluefield, Princeton prepare to celebrate the arrival of 2014

PRINCETON — Mercer County made it through more than 176 years before hosting any kind of New Year’s Eve ball drop to ring in the new year. But on Tuesday night, New Year’s Eve revelers will have the opportunity to choose between a ball drop in Princeton and a lemon drop in Bluefield.

Robert Farley, president and chief executive officer of the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce said that both communities are following the same blueprint to build success in their local communities.

“All of the things we’re doing in Princeton are part of the plan we came up with as a Blueprint Community,” Farley said. “Several communities of southern West Virginia — Sophia, Princeton, Bluefield and Hinton — attended the Blueprint meetings about eight or nine months ago.

“When we came out of the meeting, we decided to work on the old Royal/Lavon theater as a focal point for the downtown,” Farley said. “The artists really took off with the murals downtown, and the city has stepped in with new trash cans and benches. The city got the fountain working again and then we got a grant to buy the theater. Now we’re selling theater seats for $375 each and they’re going well.”

Farley said that the Blueprint leadership conducted surveys to get public input as to what direction they wanted the city to go in. “We even had a couple of those in the theater itself,” Farley said. “The surveys kept the community involved. When I saw Greg (Puckett, executive director of Community Connections) up in that bucket last week raising $11,000 to renovate the Renaissance Theater, you could see that the community is engaged.”

The Blueprint effort has paid unanticipated dividends. “When I walked down Mercer Street last week, I noticed that every storefront had a lit-up Christmas tree in it,” Farley said. “Some businesses have re-painted their store fronts and during good weather, two police officers have been walking a beat on Mercer Street.

“The city’s been a great partner in this effort every step of the way,” Farley said. “Now that the city is moving downtown and New River Community and Technical College’s educational center is moving into the same building, we could see an increase of 200 to 400 people coming into the downtown.

“In downtown Lewisburg, all you see is kids all the time who are going to the Lewisburg campus,” Farley said. “It seems to me that everyone has caught the band wagon and it’s moving. You’ve got to have a focal point and you have to keep in mind that it’s not going to happen over night.”

Jim Ferguson, Bluefield city manager said that Bluefield had been working on it’s “Blue Momentum” program before the city became involved in the Blueprint Community program, and as a result, several of the things now taking shape in the downtown were already in the works prior to the Blueprint Community.

“The Bluefield Preservation Society was already in the works before we became involved in the Blueprint Communities program,” Ferguson said. “I think the communities involved picked up ideas from each other, and that’s good.

“Blue Momentum — our economic development plan — had a downtown revitalization program in it before Blueprint Communities came along,” Ferguson said. “We had already started that program under the leadership of Greg Shrewsbury. When Greg left, we brought on Joshua Cline, there was a short learning period, but we have kept making progress.”

Ferguson said the work of the Bluefield Beautification Commission, the Bluefield Preservation Society, the Bluefield Alliance for the Arts and the city are all working together to make improvements in the city.

— Contact Bill Archer at

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