The Times West Virginian

July 11, 2013

Cooperation could spark development of riverfront

Times West Virginian

— Government is limited in what it can do to promote growth within a town or city.

When it comes down to housing, restaurants, businesses and entertainment venues, a city or a county can encourage growth but cannot demand it. It cannot build a popular chain restaurant that makes the city a destination. Leaders cannot build riverfront condos on spec in hopes of rental income. The government cannot construct a major amusement park or convention center.

They can build roads, provide water and sewer hook-ups, and develop laws and ordinances that encourage businesses and entrepreneurs to invest in the area. They can promote the area at trade shows and conferences, marketing how this particular area is prime for development or redevelopment.

You ask yourself the question, “What’s so great about Fairmont? What’s so great about Marion County?”

The answers are abundant. We have a lot of things to be thankful for — low crime rates, a strong school system, superior higher education, friendly communities, a skilled and willing workforce, scenic beauty, culture. Just about anyone you ask could give you a different answer.

But ask an outsider — someone not from West Virginia — that same question. What would they see if they were looking at data on a piece of paper? What if they hadn’t shopped in a local store, taken a walk down a rail trail, attended a local festival, enjoyed a Mountaineer football game, fished in the Tygart River? Would they feel the same emotional tie to this piece of land 56,000 people strong love?

Of course not. Businesses have to make decisions on where to locate or branch out based on a number of criteria. The geography. The climate. The clientele. The infrastructure. The housing. The quality of life.

We believe that last piece is an area that has needed improvement in Marion County. Yes, we have lots of natural beauty, rolling hills, flowing waters of three rivers. But access to those natural amenities is limited.

And we believe that a plan proposed by the Marion‚ÄąCounty Commission to develop the riverfront of the Monongahela River on Fairmont’s East Side is certainly something that needs to be supported. At a com­bined work session with the City of Fairmont last week, the commission unveiled a vision to redevelop the riverfront proper­ty near Palatine Park.

The hitch is that a portion of the area targeted for development is owned by the City of Fairmont, though the county purchased a vast majority of the land surrounding and including portions of Palatine Park from CSX Transportation Inc. for the potential for economic and recreational development near the riverfront area.

The develop­ment plan includes clearing out space for walking trails and adding restrooms, fishing docks, boat docks and boat ramps to the portion of land that extends from the Marion County Election Center to the Palatine Park amphitheater.

In order to extend the devel­opment beyond the amphithe­ater and toward the High Level Bridge, the county needs cooperation from the city. If the city agrees to trade the county for the property, the conceptual plan calls for ideas such as additional pavilions, spaces for restaurants with outdoor eating, an overlook, opportunities for kayak and paddle boat rentals, more boat ramps and docks, a playground and more.

The county has placed the 100 block of Adams Street on the table and is willing to trade the plot for the section of Palatine Park the city owns. There’s a great deal of value in that block of Adams Street where the old State Office Complex once stood. It is a prime piece of green space downtown that could be used to make the city more appealing, be used for events and developed into a thriving social center. It is a smaller, more manageable site to develop, which fits along with the city’s limited budget for such development.

The county has the resources and a funding stream for the development of the riverfront, and quite frankly, it has a track record of developing and maintaining parks.

We’ve looked to the riverfront for economic development for more than a decade now. While there have been grand plans, there hasn’t been movement. Blame the economy. Blame limited funding sources. Blame businesses that proceed with extreme caution. But accept that plans have never materialized into moving dirt and bricks and mortar.

This initial investment the county is willing to make and is able to afford, we believe, will bring private investment to the riverfront, too.

If the plan moves forward, the city will have a developed riverfront in the end. The county investment should jump start private investment, which will continue to feed growth and expansion, all within the city limits of Fairmont.

We know the phrase “win-win situation” gets thrown around a lot, but we can’t think of a better way to describe this trade the county has offered. We certainly hope city officials will be receptive to the deal.