By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Mayor Linda Whalen said “Blue Momentum,” the city’s new economic development push, will be a largely citizen-based effort with city backing when needed.
The plan — which was devised by citizen volunteers and city leaders under the guidance of former Economic Development Director Greg Shrewsbury — includes ideas ranging from revitalizing downtown Bluefield to capitalizing on the city’s railroad past, emphasizing on parks and recreation, promoting music and art, developing a business incubator program, and creating a more visible police presence.
Whalen said the plan is supported by the city, but making the goals set forth in the plan a reality will be up to the various citizen committees who created the plan.
“This economic development plan was put forth by citizens,” Whalen said. “It was done in sections and each section has a leader and a committee. It is the intent for the citizens to continue moving this plan forward. We fully expect the people involved in this to move it forward. The planning was just the first step, and now they will move into action. This is an energetic group of people who have great ideas. They will move it forward.”
Whalen said the city will be willing to assist these citizens in everything from grant applications to networking.
“As a city, we certainly will step in and be able to assist in anyway that’s needed, but this is really a community-led endeavor,” she said. “The city will assist in anything they need whether in the form of grant applications, making contacts for them, or other ways. The possibilities are endless, and we will be a strong backup. Each component of the plan is just outstanding. These are really outstanding ideas, and I think each component will start moving forward. We are equally thrilled with all of the ideas that were put forward. One of the ideas has to do with parks and recreation, which will be led by the recreations director, but even that will have citizen involvement through the park and recreation advisory board. That will have a lot of community input, too.”
Another of the proposals includes renovating parts of Raleigh, Commerce and Bland streets into a “Depot District” to utilize the city’s railroad history. While the plan calls for five of the buildings on these streets to be acquired and renovated, Whalen said the committee plans to work with current businesses located on these streets as part of the renovation process.
“The plan is to concentrate on an area where you can have a lot of businesses open at the same time instead of having one on one block and one on another,” she said. “The idea is to get as many businesses as we can in that district open. The architectural design is something the group has to work on. The committee is working on that in addition to a group called the Bluefield Preservation Group. They are working on a plan to start redoing buildings downtown. All of that works together. You have people on the preservation group and people on the economic development committee that are some of the same people. You have really a strong group of people pushing that effort forward.”
Whalen said members of the Bluefield Preservation Group and the Blue Momentum committee are already working on grants for the Depot District project.
“They have already received some grants for this and are looking into other grants,” Whalen said. “They are researching their options to see what is available. It would enhance the beauty of the businesses there. Hopefully, when we get this going, people who are there and have these businesses would be interested in participating as well.”
Though he has resigned his position as economic development director, Whalen said Greg Shrewsbury will continue to be active in Blue Momentum as a citizen.
“Greg Shrewsbury will continue to spearhead this plan and they will meet on a regular basis,” she said. “He will be the leader of those meetings. He will continue to check in with each group to make sure they are progressing. It’s a citizen-led economic development plan.”
At this point, Whalen said the board of directors has not discussed beginning the process to hire a new economic development director for the city.
“We have had some people contacted us,” she said. “It was a long process before just trying to get what we felt was the right person at a price we can afford. We will start that process again. We certainly think Greg did a wonderful job and certainly started us on the right path. We do need to get someone who can continue that momentum. That will be discussed at our meeting on Tuesday.”
— Contact Kate Coil at email@example.com