Now that hundreds of good-paying technology jobs are coming to downtown Bluefield courtesy of Intuit and their partner employer Alorica, it is important for city officials to actively explore additional areas where more economic development and job creation projects could occur. One logical growth area is the heavily traveled Interstate 77 Exit 1 corridor in Bluefield.
Consider these important statistics. There are approximately 31,000 vehicles a day that pass by Exit 1. But without hotels, motels, gas stations, shopping centers and other unique attractions for tourists in place, those motorists have little incentive to exit the interstate corridor near Bluefield.
With hope, that will be changing in the near future as efforts to develop the heavily traveled interstate corridor are finally on a fast track. The Bluefield Board of Directors began negotiations last month with RK&K, a Baltimore-based engineering company with an office in Roanoke, Va. RK&K was one of eight companies that submitted bids on a project that involves the creation of shovel-ready pads for new businesses along approximately 12 to 15 acres of land owned by the city at Exit 1.
The city actually owns about 80 acres of land near the existing Bluefield Area Transit headquarters, but some of that property is not developable due to steep terrain and other geographical challenges.
A 15-acre multi-purpose, multi-tenant property around the current BAT headquarters will be the focus of the work, which could eventually spur $11 million in private investment and create 250 jobs, according to earlier city estimates. The property in question also has been designated as a federal opportunity zone, which will help with attracting private investments in the area.
City Attorney Colin Cline told the board last month that RK&K was the choice of a selection committee. Negotiations on a contract are now underway. A final document is expected to be presented to the city board this month for approval.
The city earlier obtained a federal $1 million EDA (Economic Development Administration) grant to spur development at Exit 1, and that grant will be matched by local foundations for the $2 million project. A preliminary study for a master plan was done previously to pinpoint how much of the 80 acres the city owns can be developed. The engineering and design phase is the next step for the project.
The city is hoping to spur retail business development in the area, including a hotel, restaurant and gasoline facility to serve interstate travelers. A recent hotel feasibility study commissioned by the city encouraged the location of a hotel at Exit 1.
We encourage the city to proceed with haste on this important project.
The development of Exit 1 in Bluefield is certainly long overdue. Those thousands of motorists on I-77 who drive past the city each day need a reason to stop at Exit 1.
The sooner this area can be developed the better.