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‘Master plan’ for development: Appalachian Power distributes grants to help spur economic growth in Bluefield, W.Va.

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — A grant from Appalachian Power Company is helping spur a move to create economic development around Exit 1 on Interstate 77 in Bluefield.

The grant of $12,500 to the City of Bluefield is “to support development of a comprehensive master plan for an 80-acre, city-owned business park,” the company said.

“We own a little more than 80 acres at Exit 1,” said Jim Spencer, the city’s economic development director. “Not all of it is developable, though.”

How big the business park can be has not yet been determined.

The city purchased and annexed the land, which is on John Nash Boulevard around the Bluefield Area Transit (BAT) headquarters, and has been exploring ways to maximize its potential.

“A master plan will look at road access, infrastructure and pad development,” he said. “That will determine how much of that land can be developed.”

Spencer said he applied for the grant as part of leveraging another grant from the Shott Foundation.

“It is matched with money from the Shott Foundation,” he said. “They had previously given us some money (for the master plan).”

Before any development can be done, the plan has to be completed.

“This will give us hard data to use in the plans around Exit 1,” he said. “This is seed money to help us plan for first-class development.”

Spencer said work on the plan should begin early next year.

Exit 1 has been the focus of the city for some time because of its potential for commercial development, but the terrain has always been a challenge, he said, adding that the master plan will help lay the foundation for appropriate growth.

The city is also promoting a plan to use the former Consol building nearby on John Nash Boulevard for a Veterans Administration clinic.

The one in Princeton is too small and the VA is searching for a new location.

The clinic, which is part of the Beckley VA Medical Center, is in a facility on North Walker Street that limits the services that can be offered.

City Manager Dane Rideout said recently the Consol building would work well for a VA clinic.

“We wanted to be part of the discussion,” he said of the search for a new location for the clinic. “It (the current VA clinic site) is under staffed and crammed into a very small space.”

Rideout said the Consol building is very close to Exit 1, the BAT and convenient to Bluefield Regional Medical Center.

Having the BAT close by is a big asset, he said, because it provides the transportation needed from all around the county and into McDowell County.

The decision on where to locate the facility is in the hands of the federal VA, he added.

Appalachian Power also approved a grant for $12,500 to the Mercer County Economic Development Authority to enhance and redesign its website.

“Our website is around 10 years old,” said Janet Bailey, Mercer County’s economic development director. “It’s in dire need of updating and revising. This $12,500 will help us accomplish that.”

Bailey said the website will be more user friendly and allow anyone to access it using their mobile apps.

“We want to attract industry, but we want to attract people too,” she said. “It will have a total new look.”

The new website should be completed in about six months, she said. “We are really grateful to Appalachian Power.”

Spencer also expressed gratitude, and said a grant from Appalachian Power helped with the city’s website, mybluefield.org, as well as the Commercialization Station, which has gone on to receive more than $2.5 million in grant money.

The grants target communities affected by a downturn in the coal industry and are part of ongoing efforts to promote economic growth in the company’s service territory.   

Eight organizations will receive grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000 through the company’s Economic Development Growth Enhancement (EDGE) program administered by John Smolak, economic and business development director. The funds may be used for site development or to support marketing and promotion, or new business development and retention.

Appalachian Power distributes EDGE grants on an annual basis. The company will award $91,000 in EDGE grants to nonprofits and localities this year.   

“Appalachian Power is proud to partner with our local, regional and state organizations on outstanding economic development projects in Virginia and West Virginia,” Smolak said. “The EDGE Grant’s focus is to help prepare our communities for new job growth and investment opportunities and we want to help them succeed.” 

— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]

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