By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Jim Justice’s chief of staff said Thursday that the new West Virginia governor is committed to pursuing development of the massive Rock Creek Development Park, in Boone County, which outgoing Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has touted as his major economic development initiative for the past year.
“The Justice administration’s perspective is: You’ve got to think big. This is big,” Nick Casey said Thursday during what likely was Tomblin’s last news conference as governor.
Tomblin announced plans to develop the former Hobet surface mine into a multi-use industrial, commercial and residential site last January, in his State of the State address. In his farewell address Wednesday, he said development of the complex is a key to diversifying the state’s economy.
“I’m grateful to have the support of Gov.-elect Jim Justice as I pass the torch for this project that means so much to me and will give so much back to the hardworking men and women of Southern West Virginia,” Tomblin said.
Last month, the government sold $58 million in bonds to help finance the $93 million project to build a 2.6-mile four-lane highway linking the development with U.S. 119 and W.Va. 3 near Foster, in Boone County — a project criticized by some legislators for potentially “jumping” highways projects that have been on the books for years.
On Thursday, Todd Schoolcraft, architect with GAI Consultants, highlighted a four-month marketing analysis and strategic plan for the development.
Schoolcraft said the site, with 9,000 to 10,000 acres of developable flat land, has “a lot of potential” with most infrastructure already in place, and with relatively close proximity to highways, rail service and Yeager Airport.
Outgoing Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said the biggest challenge to recruiting new investment to West Virginia is the lack of suitable sites.
“If you had an opportunity to bring a business to Southern West Virginia, where would you put it?” Burdette asked, adding, “Sites have to be identified if we’re going to be able to diversify the economy. This is an extraordinary site, unlike anywhere in the state.”
Casey picked up on that theme, noting, “The No. 1 reason people don’t come to West Virginia for big projects is they don’t have a site to come to. If there’s no site, there’s no opportunity.”
Afterward Thursday, Casey said he could not comment at length on another proposal in Tomblin’s farewell address, to raise about $270 million a year in new taxes to help reduce ongoing state revenue shortfalls.
Casey said that, as a certified public accountant, he recognizes there has to be a balance between revenue and expenditures but said the sentiment of the Legislature is clear: “They’d like to see cuts first.”
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