The Times West Virginian

Local News

June 12, 2014

Leaders: Time for Fairmont to shine

FAIRMONT — Community leaders believe that now is Fairmont’s time to shine.

Main Street Fairmont has been hosting the two-day Downtown Developers’ Tour, which began Wednesday and concludes today. A variety of professionals — including regional architects, designers, developers, lenders and business owners — have been part of the event.

The Downtown Developers’ Tour is sponsored by BB&T, Tandus, Omni and Associates, and the Marion County Chamber of Commerce. The City of Fairmont, The Thrasher Group and the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Marion County are also involved.

The conference began Wednesday at the Gatherings at 216 Monroe St., a historic space itself, with networking opportunities and presentations focused on the process of revitalizing Fairmont and economic development opportunities for the Friendly City, Marion County and the region.

The High Technology Foundation, a scientific research and development organization that operates as a nonprofit, works to be a catalyst for economic diversification across the region and state, said Jim Estep, president and CEO. The foundation’s strategy for economic diversification involves building upon the fertile business environment created by federal anchors in the area.

North Central West Virginia is already the home of FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown, and the NASA Independent Verification & Validation Facility and several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects at the I-79 Technology Park in Fairmont.

The Friendly City was also selected as the site for the ground station command center for two of the country’s most important and highest priority satellite programs — the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series program (GOES-R) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).

Estep said it’s vital that the region preserve these existing anchors while also recruiting additional anchors to the region. Federal anchors hire staff directly, provide numerous contracting opportunities, and allow for the growth of small- and medium-sized businesses.

The High Technology Foundation believes the I-79 Technology Park, which includes a plan for four phases and a projected capacity of 2.5 million square feet, is a powerful tool for attracting additional anchors, Estep said.

Fairmont is 230 miles and approximately a four-hour drive from Washington, D.C., which makes the Friendly City very accessible, he said. The I-79 Technology Park features a world-class infrastructure, with completed electrical and telecommunications upgrades, that a federal anchor can plug into.

Estep is excited about the park and its potential.

Kate Greene, executive director of Main Street, said Fairmont has an amazing energy and is filled with people who care, have a vision and can make change happen. She believes amazing things are happening in the city, which has great potential.

Main Street is a grassroots, nonprofit organization that advocates for economic vitality and improving the quality of life downtown. The organization believes old buildings have character and value, and are worth saving, Greene said.

Todd Anderson, a representative of Sen. Joe Manchin’s office, commended the efforts of Main Street and other organizations and community leaders to revitalize Fairmont, which is starting to thrive with the addition of the Gateway Connector and the opening of new businesses. He announced that Manchin is currently working to move his Morgantown office to Fairmont.

About 15 years ago, Fairmont started along a path to create an infrastructure that the community could be proud of, and now the city is starting to see those benefits come together, said Fairmont City Manager Jay Rogers.

He told the attendees that he hoped they found something that sparked their creative interests during the  Downtown Developers’ Tour. Rogers encouraged people to bring their ideas to the local government and help find a way to make those visions a reality.

The Marion County Chamber of Commerce, a county-wide nonprofit organization, is located in downtown Fairmont in a historic building that was formerly revitalized, said president Tina Shaw. The chamber supports business development and works with various economic development organizations to help businesses succeed in Marion County.

Sadd Brothers Development is attempting to develop the Miller School in Fairmont, said Steve Sadd. The development group is partnering with the Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority to try to create quality affordable housing for seniors.

Sadd Brothers Development has been working on this proposed project, which isn’t yet finalized, for about three years. This effort also focuses on historic preservation, adaptive reuse and reinvestment in the community, Sadd said.

He said the local government has provided outstanding support throughout the endeavor. Sadd Brothers Development is currently involved in the tax credit process.

Jennifer Brennan, community development planner for Washington, North Carolina, who formerly worked for the State Historic Preservation Office, offered the audience her expertise on tax credits for rehabilitating historic buildings.

The state historic tax credit program offers 20 percent off federal taxes and 10 percent off state taxes for qualifying expenses, and there are also financial requirements. The commercial tax credits, which involve a three-part application process, are designed for structures like office buildings, converted house, apartments, bed and breakfasts, and mixed-use facilities that are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Main Street Fairmont’s Downtown Developers’ Tour continues today with a discussion on the redevelopment of the Crawford Building, a session on general building assessment and code or accessibility issues, and a workshop on financing development projects.

Also, Dan Carmody and Mike Jackson are bringing the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s nationally recognized development program, called “Upstairs Downtown,” to the event. During the workshop, they will talk about bringing life to the vacant upper floors of downtown buildings and offer case studies.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.

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