By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
After hearing almost two hours of public comment, the Princeton Building Commission voted Friday to begin negotiations to sell the former First Community Bank building on Mercer Street to New River Community and Technical College.
The city of Princeton purchased the Mercer Street building in 2013 with plans to move the city’s municipal offices and police department there. A joint meeting of the building commission and the Princeton City Council was conducted Friday at the Fred Gilbert Center on Straley Avenue to discuss the possibility of accepting the former Dean Company building, a property the owner, Richard “Dick” Preservati, has offered to donate to the city. The proposal calls for moving the city offices, police, fire, and other departments to that location. The property has approximately 34 acres of land.
“I want to see the city be able to grow and expand, and have something for the kids, a nice recreational complex and much better offices and infrastructure,” said Preservati, who was out of town Friday.
Most of the people who addressed the building commission spoke in favor of moving the city’s offices to the Dean Company structure. The idea of having college students on Mercer Street, where they could support local businesses, was frequently brought up.
“It’s the opportunity to have a college come downtown,” said resident John Hickman. “That’s a no brainer.”
One PikeView High School student who said he had not planned to speak still took a minute to address the board.
“A lot of students in my class, they want to leave,” said 17-year-old Bradley Tupper. “They think Princeton is dead. I don’t like that, this is home. Our youth is vital, and we can make us grow and prosper as a city.”
Princeton firefighters and police officers also endorsed the idea. Police Chief John Howell said one part of the previous plan, moving the police department to Mercer Street, could be accomplished by dedicating an officer to patrol the street, and by having an office there as well.
Fire Chief Chad Bailey estimated that constructing a new fire department building could cost $2.3 million, but moving to the Dean Company site would be much less expensive.
“Right now, what is being offered to us is the best thing that could happen for the city,” Bailey said.
Council members Marshall Lytton, Jim Harvey, Dewey Russell, and Tim Ealy spoke in favor of the accepting the former Dean Company site. Selling the bank building to the college would let the city avoid a debt of up to $2.5 million, Lytton said.
Harvey addressed the audience and asked everybody who supported the Dean Company site proposal to stand. Approximately 50 people stood, and nobody rose when asked if they opposed it.
“I made a major mistake,” Russell said of his vote to buy the bank building. “However, we didn’t have the proposal we do have tonight.”
Vice Mayor Jimm Norman said he wanted to learn how much a move to the Dean Company site could cost the city before making a commitment.
“I’m not opposed to moving to the Dean Company, but I would like to know we can afford to do it,” Norman said. “Please don’t ask us tonight to do it when we do not know if we can afford to do it.”
Mayor Pat mended accepting the donation, but agreed that a feasibility study and cost study “would be a wise move to take.”
Barry Blizzard, building commission chairman, said while the commission voted to start negotiating with the college, the decision whether to move city offices and departments to the former Dean Company would be up to the city.