Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Hoping to build momentum while also changing public perception, a team of volunteers and city leaders rolled out their long-awaited economic development and revitalization plan Tuesday for Bluefield.
The far-reaching plan — dubbed “Blue Momentum” — addresses everything from promoting a renewed spirit of citizen ownership in Bluefield to an energy, recreational and downtown revitalization component. A committee of concerned citizens lead by City Economic Development Director Greg Shrewsbury and City Manager Jim Ferguson has worked over the past few weeks to craft the plan.
“This is a team effort,” Shrewsbury said. “One thing you hear in economic development, it is not contingent upon one individual. It takes a team effort and many people working together. The community engagement piece in my mind is the most important.”
Shrewsbury said the plan unveiled Tuesday night is a short-term blueprint — a “pathway to a start.” He said the committee will continue to evaluate progress on a quarterly basis.
Among a number of ideas, the plan seeks to consolidate the city’s two merchants associations into one by the year’s end; create new signage from John Nash Boulevard through the downtown aimed at attracting ATV traffic from the Hatfield-McCoy Trail; calls for a hotel feasibility study to be funded through grants; an enforcement of parking restrictions by meter or signage; the addition of a visible police “walk the beat” presence” in the downtown area; repairing sidewalks; and promoting a renewed arts presence through museums, coal archives, train collections and additional “artists in residence.”
The plan also calls for weekly events such as arts and crafts festivals, music, art exhibits, a farmers market, car shows and trolley tours. It also calls for the creation of a “Depot District” that would take in parts of Raleigh, Commerce and Bland streets while acquiring five buildings that are currently available for acquisition and renovation. The Depot District proposal would add railway depot facades to all buildings, and the addition of railway depot lamp posts. The plan also calls for the development of business incubator programs that would provide rent-free renovated space for a specified time for qualified vendors. The Bluefield Preservation Society would be actively involved in the downtown component of the plan.
The plan also focuses on energy and transportation, and recreation. The so-called “Pickens Plan Strategy” would promote the development of natural gas while converting the city and county fleet of vehicles from diesel to natural gas creating roughly $2,500 in vehicle savings in fuel annually. It also seeks help from existing retailers to build a major truck stop-style fueling station on property where the future Bluefield Area Transit system will be relocated along John Nash Boulevard. The plan also seeks to recruit energy companies engaged in gas, wind, and hydroelectric and promote the city’s close proximity to Intestates 77 and 81 and the Norfolk Southern railyard.
The key to bringing traffic back to the downtown area is changing perceptions of the downtown, according to committee member Julie Hurley.
“It is our desire to generate such energy and enthusiasm that synergy is achievable,” Hurley said. “Together we can do great things in downtown Bluefield. But do we want to?”
The crowd of about 35 volunteers and city officials in attendance at the meeting responded “yes.”
Allen Peacock, also a member of the committee, said Bluefield is uniquely positioned with its close proximity to interstate corridors and the existing Norfolk Southern railway.
“Regardless of your viewpoint of wind energy, there is a wind component taking place,” Peacock said. “We have to figure out how we can harness that.”
Shrewsbury was later asked by the Daily Telegraph to clarify whether the plan was advocating the construction of wind turbines in the city limits of Bluefield. Shrewsbury and Peacock said no, adding the plan instead simply seeks to tap into the service industry of gas, wind and other energy industries to be centered in the Bluefield area.
“We are not advocating wind turbines on East River Mountain,” Peackcock said.
A bitter battle ensued in Tazewell County, and neighboring Bluefield, Va., a few years ago over a wind turbine farm planned for East River Mountain. The Tazewell County Board of Supervisors ultimately passed a ridgeline protection ordinance restricting the development of tall structures — such as wind turbines — along certain protected ridgelines, including East River Mountain. The town of Bluefield, Va., also passed a related ordinance restricting the development of wind turbines in its municipal limits.
Dwight Godwin, director of parks and recreation for the city of Bluefield, said an expansion and improvement of existing recreational facilities is a key component of the plan.
“You have a major scenic overview on 460,” Godwin said. “Do we as citizens enjoy it ourselves? We as citizens need to be actually using our own facilities before we invite anyone else to. I’m amazed with everything we have here.”
The plan also seeks to expand Ferguson’s “Team Blue” campaign, which aims to strengthen citizen involvement and support of the city. It calls for weekly meetings of a core group of Team Blue members to discuss future economic development ideas and planning while also providing training to key citizens on community leadership. The campaign also includes a marketing component that will seek to promote the Team Blue and “shop local” themes. It also incorporates the new task force recently formed in conjunction with Bluefield State College with a goal of bringing college courses back to the downtown area by this fall.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com