Exit 1

Traffic flows past Exit 1 on I-77, Thursday. 

BLUEFIELD — A contract for engineering work to start the development process at I-77 Exit 1 was approved by the Bluefield City Board Tuesday.

After looking at various bids for the work, making a choice and given the green light to negotiate, City Attorney Colin Cline said a contract is being finalized with RK&K, a Baltimore-based engineering company with an office in Roanoke, Va.

“They are head and shoulders above the rest (that bid on the project,” he said, adding that Draper Aden and Associates of Blacksburg, Va. will do the geotechnical to make sure any possible underground issues are pinpointed and mitigated.

Cline said the city has a total of $2 million for the the engineering and site preparation work, with a $1 million EDA (federal Economic Development Administration) with $1 million in matching funds from local foundations.

“Good engineering will help us spend that money wisely,” he said.

When the Exit 1 project is completed, about 12 to 15 shovel-ready pads for new businesses will be available.

A preliminary study for a master plan was done previously to pinpoint how much of the more than 80 acres the city owns around the BAT (Bluefield Area Transit) headquarters is developable. The engineering/design phase is the next step.

City Manager Dane Rideout said Exit 1 may be the “most underutilized exit on 77.”

“This is finally, finally us developing Exit 1,” he said, adding that a hotel needs to be located there or in the city to help spur economic development

A recent feasibility study showed a hotel would work at either place, and be utilized.

“We have to get a hotel for people to stay in this city,” he said. “It will start affecting other things we do inside the city.”

Rideout said this project is “two years in the making.”

“You are going to see dirt flying hopefully by April (2020),” he said. “You are not going to see concrete pads out there. You are going to see flat space out there with a sign that says, ‘Will build to suit.’”

Rideout said the site preparation will be done as well as all the utilities ready, making it “prime for a developer to come in and go vertical.”

“This is exciting,” he said. “People have been talking about doing something there for years, but we are actually doing it.”

That land has been annexed into the city, he added, and development will provide tax revenue for the city.

“We must develop that if we are going to move this city forward,” he said.

Jim Spencer, the city’s director of economic and community development, said the area is already being marketed for development.

In other business, the board:

• Heard from Rideout that the Herb Sims Center will retain that name.

He was responding to a question about Bluefield College changing the name to the Sims Wellness Center.

But Rideout said the name will remain the same. The college was considering the change, he said, but decided to keep it the Herb Sims Center, as it was included in the lease agreement.

The college is leasing the center for its athletic department with football weight training and the home of its basketball program and games, as well as community events.

• Also heard from Rideout that on Oct. 1 City Park will be closed to traffic with only walking allowed.

“That’s because we are starting the installation of the Holiday of Lights (for the Christmas season),” he said, adding that to do the installation wiring is often “all over the place” and can be a hazard to traffic.

“It takes awhile (to install all of the lights) so we need that road,” he said.

• Praised the Bluefield Preservation Society (BPS) and Tommy Cole for two weekends of entertainment in the downtown area for residents.

“We saw a record attendance at the (BPS) Lemonade Festival (Aug. 31),” said Mayor Ron Martin, and both the festival and the (Tommy Cole-sponsored) Blues Festival on Sept. 7 continue to grow.

“Everybody did a great job,” he said, adding that the Bluefield Police, Fire and Public Works departments all did well.

“They were two awesome weekends in Bluefield that make it a great place to be and do fun things,” he said.

• Heard from City Ambassador Marie Blackwell that the Sept. 11 ceremony will be held today at noon at Chicory Square with a veteran who served in the Middle East speaking. Blackwell asked the public to come out and honor those who lost their lives on that day.

She also reminded the board of the Out of the Darkness walk is set for Saturday at 6 p.m at Chicory Square. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, she said, and registration for the walk will start at 5 p.m. Bluefield State College is hosting a bonfire in the student union parking lot at 8:30 p.m. as part of the walk.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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