Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 3, 2011

Design professionals examine Bluefield with fresh eyes

BLUEFIELD — A ragtag group of design and landscape architects, artists, urban planners, grant-writing specialists, historians, film professionals and more swept through Bluefield this week, leaving a plethora of ideas in their wake and a pledge to help citizens advance to the next level.

“Wake up!” one of the members of DesignRevival 24 shouted at the end of a 2-hour-long meeting Saturday morning. The shout prompted Scott Lageaux to almost leap from his seat in order to put a wrap on the sleepless in Bluefield crew of energetic design experts who spent 24 hours examining what the city has become and imagining how the “bones” of Bluefield's historic past can support the fabric of a citywide renaissance.

“You've been a bit of a laboratory for us,” Lageaux said. “We want to see the results.” He said the team of 25 innovative individuals from professional firms of the Charlotte, N.C., area will develop a compendium of the concepts they developed from their day-long visit and all night brainstorming session and assemble them into a coffee table book for presentation to the Bluefield board of directors in a month.

Lageaux said that Kate Pierce, “a guru of grants,” worked with all of the specialists, and would be looking to “put the puzzle pieces together,” to help cover the cost of some of the projects. “We have a blog we've started. We're going to update it and track it to see six months down the road, how you're doing,” he said. “We're here for you.”

A group of 40-45 stakeholders came to the renovated lobby of the old Commercial Bank Building on Federal Street in the city and watched the tag team presentation, as energetic presenters passionately poured their ideas out to city leaders. “This really has been such a blessing to us,” Mayor Linda Whalen said after the presentation ended. “We are committed to moving Bluefield forward.”

During his opening presentation, Lageaux said DesignRevival 24 was intended to serve as a blueprint for the city's future. “A toolbox,” he said. One by one, without fanfare or introduction, team members came forward to share their ideas. The two-hour session seemed to pass in 20 minutes.

“You have a great fabric here,” Richard Petershein said, talking about the city's downtown. “There's a beautiful story right there.” He said the city needs to work on creating “a sense of arrival” for visitors entering Bluefield.

Alan Asschenbrenner shared his ideas about how to develop a 24-7 city out of the present 9-5 concept. He talked about “the East End concept” and encouraged the development of smaller neighborhoods in residential neighborhoods. He also said that students like nice living quarters that are in historic surroundings. “The younger generation is going to eat that up,” he said.

Kathy Kunyel shared her group's vision for transforming Princeton Avenue as well as Federal and Bland streets to create new open spaces that will make the heart of the city visitor and business friendly. Aaron Shier just started his presentation when Daniel J. Dodd raced to the front of the audience.

“Hey, can I walk you through these first three slides,” Dodd said. “I've been up since 6 a.m., on Friday.” Dodd's friendship with Bluefield City Manager Andy Merriman brought the team to Bluefield. “I've been here 5 or 6 times. It's sort of difficult to find you. It's six miles from the interstate exit.”

“Twenty-seven hours without sleep gives you brutal honesty,” Merriman said.

“There's no place in the United States that has a T like Bluefield does at Princeton Avenue,” Dodd said. “Maybe there is. That billboard's got to go.”

Shier led the discussion about transforming the heart of downtown to a pedestrian-friendly area. Beth Poovey expanded by suggesting some changes to the traffic flow downtown and Jim Babincak described in detail the sketch of a cantilevered feature on Princeton Avenue.

The presenters of Shier's group discussed the expansion of the arts district in the vicinity of “the point,” at the intersection of Bland and Federal streets. All of the team members wore black t-shirts with DesignRevival 24 on the back and “90 degrees = Lemonade” on the front.

Alicia Rocco and Autumn Visconti presented a pair of ideas as to how to create an artist/student/train-spotting area in the vicinity of the Martin Luther King Jr., Bridge, while Susan England said Bluefield has “an incredible art community” and recommended working with local artists to use their skills on the two antiquated parking garages in Bluefield. “You dress them up and give them a good send-off,” England said.

Shaun Tooley talked about how to rework Lotito Park and the city park complex to promote healthier living  while Heth Kendrick's fast-paced look at Bluefield's history. “It's a rich history and you've got it,” Kendrick said. Kendrick and Dennis Walls walked throughout the city on Friday and explored several sites. Walls provided the names of the presenters to a reporter calling the event. Chris Capellini served as clean-up presenter and discussed ways of improving on the great success of Bluefield's recycling program.

The team provided the ideas to the city at no charge.

— Contact Bill Archer at


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