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A project designed to boost downtown Bluefield has not sputtered and died; instead, engineering and architectural work has been moving ahead while the city of Bluefield seeks additional funding for the project, officials said Tuesday.
David W. Hafley, vice president and planning manager with Parsons Brinckerhoff from Lexington, Ky. spoke to the Bluefield Rotary Club about the status of the Colonial Intermodal Center for downtown Bluefield, a project that is scheduled to get a new name.
“The project formerly called the Colonial Intermodal Center is intended to bring economic activity and life to downtown Bluefield,” City Manager Jim Ferguson told the audience at the Fincastle Country Club. “The engineering of the first phase of the development is underway. Bluefield selected and teamed up with Parsons Brinckerhoff to help with the design and the planning of the project.”
Hafley said much of the work has been happening behind the scenes. He provided the audience with materials and illustrations of the project plans.
“I know at times when you’re in the engineering phase and there are engineering things going on behind the scenes, it can seem like things are not occurring or there’s no progress being made, but there is a great deal of activity right now,” Hafley said. “It’s a little bit like Mark Twain’s quote over a century ago, ‘The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.’ The rumors of Bluefield stalling with this project have been greatly exaggerated, and I think you’ll see that today with the information I’ll be handing out.”
The plan calls for situating the intermodal center on two and a half acres of land the city owns along Princeton Avenue, Hafley said. The former Matz Hotel and Colonial Theater once shared the site with the now-demolished Princeton Avenue Parking Garage.
“The object was to take what assets we have there now and use some public money, and some federal money, to stimulate and jump start some redevelopment,” Hafley said.
The vision articulated in the project’s master plan is to use transit to bring people, activities, jobs and investment to the downtown, Hafley said. Having Bluefield Area Transit buses make stops there is important because it is among the most successful transit organizations in southern West Virginia. It moves more than 100,000 people annually and serves “ a very transit-dependent population.”
Such an economic development project would also “dovetail and compliment with the various initiatives in southern West Virginia,” Hafley said. Entities such as the major Boy Scout camp being opened in nearby Fayette County and the Hatfield-McCoy Trail branch now in Mercer County are consistent with Bluefield’s intermodal project.
To better fit in with other economic development projects, the center needs a new name, Hafley said.
“Now that’s a really clunky name – Colonial Intermodal Center,” he said.
In 20 years, people will not remember the old Colonial Theater and how it was a big part of the community.
“So the city right now is looking to rebrand the project, reinvent the project, with an identity that appeals to a broader base of the community with a theme of reimagining and redeveloping,” Hafley said. “It really is a mixed use, commercial office, institutional master plan based upon a central transit hub that will provide better service to transit patrons and bring investment to downtown Bluefield, thereby strengthening the general fabric of the Bluefield downtown.”
Bluefield has funding from the Federal Transit Association to pay for the project’s engineering and architectural work, he said. However, the city must find more money.
“Bluefield really needs to be aggressive in jump-starting this project by seeking funding assistance,” Hafley said.
Mayor Linda Whalen, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said she had spoken Monday with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va. about the project, adding that he was “very encouraging” about funding if the federal government passes a new transportation bill.