The Times West Virginian

Local News

February 28, 2014

Fairmont to address BAD buildings

One of eight state communities to be awarded technical assistance grant

FAIRMONT — Fairmont is one of eight communities awarded a $10,000 technical assistance grant by the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center.

The grants are a part of the center’s Brownfields, Abandoned & Dilapidated (BAD) buildings program, and will provide Fairmont city employees and community members with the tools to develop a comprehensive survey and plan to deal with BAD buildings.

Luke Elser, project manager with Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, said that the program’s first steps, after forming a BAD buildings team, will be to develop an inventory of all of the BAD building sites around Fairmont, and assess each site, assigning it a priority level in the city’s overall plan.

Deciding how to prioritize projects is up to the community, Elser said.

“We need to fix up the ones that are going to have an immediate impact to the community based on what Fairmont’s needs are. We need to fix up the ones that are going to have realistic redevelopment potential,” Elser said.

“We need to prioritize our efforts and our resources in a way that’s going to be positively impactful for Fairmont.”

Elser emphasized that, while dilapidated properties may seem like a big enough problem in and of themselves, they are actually a symptom of a larger problem.

“The abandoned building is a symptom of the fact that we have these properties that are not in the market,” Elser said.

Elser said that there are lots of different possibilities for how to deal with a BAD building site.

“In West Virginia, a lot of the focus tends to be on demolition, which I think is missing opportunities,” Elser said.

“Does it make sense to tear that building down and build a pocket park or a community garden or a green space? Does it make sense to market that building to a Realtor to try to attract a family to live there? Does it make sense that we have the building and preserve its historic nature in the downtown area?” Elser said.

“I can’t answer those questions for Fairmont. What our center is going to do is help the BAD building team figure out what those questions are, and come to an answer based on what you all know about Fairmont.”

Once these priorities and plans are developed, Elser said it will be much easier to move forward.

“From there, we can actually figure out how to get funding or how to attract developers or investors, versus just saying we’ve got some building, and we’re not really sure where to go,” he said.

But what the BAD buildings grant really needs to succeed, Elser said, is people.

“This is a process that’s very much dependent on local volunteers that are willing to spend time and energy, especially in a city as big as Fairmont,” he said.

There will be a big kick-off meeting for the project in late March, Elser said.

“That will be the first official team meeting,” he said.

While the $10,000 grant is only for 2014, Elser said his organization’s support can continue beyond that date.

“The program will technically end in the end of December, but our center is state-funded to provide assistance at no charge to communities, so what’s nice about us is that at the end of that year, when we get our recommendations for what to do for the buildings, we’ll continue to work with Fairmont to move forward on the recommendations,” Elser said.

Elser pointed to Thomas as a West Virginia community that had successfully completed a BAD building inventory, which can be viewed online by searching for “Thomas GIS inventory.”

Elser said that communities can choose to use whatever mix of “carrots and sticks” they feel is most effective and appropriate when dealing with owners of BAD building properties. He said that the community should also think about which actors would be best suited for which actions.

“Which ones should citizens do? Which ones should the city employees do? Which ones can businesses do? And which ones are going to work in Fairmont?” Elser said. “We’ll end up ideally with a menu of options.”

Kathy Wyrosdick, director of planning and development for the city of Fairmont, said that the city isn’t waiting for the final redevelopment plan to be completed to act.

“We’re not going to wait until this plan is done to do anything. We’re actively working on this issue now,” Wyrosdick said.

Wyrosdick said that this survey could have a big impact on how BAD building sites are dealt with in Fairmont, and state-wide.

“Having an inventory of all the properties is very powerful. It tells a story of what Fairmont looks like today,” Wyrosdick said. “It not only tells a story of where all these issues are, but it also tells a story to potential funders and state legislators that, look, this is the real problem.”

Wyrosdick said that mass inventories aren’t a tool currently being utilized by communities to deal with BAD buildings.

“That’s absolutely what needs to be done in this state, so we can take it to the Legislature and say, ‘Look this is a real issue, and we need real solutions,’” Wyrosdick said. “It can be very impactful for Fairmont to tell our story, but it can be truly impactful as a model state-wide.”

Wyrosdick said that the most important thing is that the community members participate.

“I encourage everyone to come out and participate because it’s a big issue,” Wyrosdick said.

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGood.

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