Danielle Stewart for Mayor of Beckley
Position Paper #7: Revitalizing Downtown Beckley
“Planning is for the world's great cities, for Paris, London, and Rome, for cities dedicated, at some level, to culture. Detroit, on the other hand, was an American city and therefore dedicated to money, and so design had given way to expediency.”
― Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
Here is something to consider. I don’t need to develop a plan to revitalize downtown. Beckley has a plan and has had a plan since June 2014 (Click HERE for the 2014 Beckley Comprehensive Plan). All I have to do is execute the plan and mitigate the issues the City of Beckley has caused by not following the plan. Here is an overview (I added in locations to make it easier to orient the map):
The purpose of these districts is to guide future development. That doesn’t mean we are locked into development along these guides. This is a good foundation to build on. This next map shows you some of the recommendations that came from the plan:
Not a bad plan with opportunities for many new businesses and public spaces. The city has a plan, so where are we at on this plan after six years:
We have one project being worked on in accordance with the plan, and that is the parking area along Earwood Avenue (highlighted with a green block). Where we were supposed to construct a multi-purpose building adjacent to the Intermodal Gateway (to take advantage of the available parking), we instead constructed a new police station (highlighted in yellow). The city had a great need for a new police station, but I am not sure the chosen location was the best location. Where we were supposed to have two new buildings along South Heber Street with retail space on the first floor, we instead got one building that is a law office only and a new green space, formerly “The Hole” (highlighted in yellow).
The city has five projects that have not been addressed and one of those projects has been problematic. The plan called for the construction of two buildings with retail space along Neville Street. The existing buildings may have supported that effort but the building owner brought in an outside engineer to say the buildings were in imminent danger of collapse. There was no verification by the city or independent engineer. The City Council allowed the buildings (which changed from two buildings to three buildings - click HERE for the story) to be demolished. The owner was supposed to construct new retail/office/apartments in accordance with comprehensive plan but to date, no construction has occurred, the lots are for sale, and for the last four years we have had another hole in our downtown.
The score over the six years Beckley has had a downtown revitalization plan: one project in accordance with the plan with construction ongoing, two projects completed partially in accordance with the plan, and five areas not addressed (and one of those areas being a disaster). Not a great score. However, the city did buy a $3 million country club during this time.
I have a plan to put us back on track with revitalizing our downtown. First though, we must acknowledge that the city can only do so much. The property owners are the individuals ultimately responsible for developing their properties and operating businesses. Beckley can and should help set the conditions, but the city is a supporting effort in the long term.
City Led Efforts, Property Owners Supporting
Parking: I will complete the parking expansion on Earwood Avenue. I will also pursue additional parking as outlined in my soon to be published Downtown Parking position paper.
Residential Arts Collective: The concept is to jury artists of various artistic expressions and select a number of individuals each year. The artists would live in the current Roche Lab building for free for one year. During that year the artists will have the space to develop and market their talents without distraction. The first floor will be an artistic showroom for artists to sell their art or demonstrate their skills. The remaining floors would be efficiency apartments. The resident artists would perform community service in Beckley as a way to thank the city for support. This is how we create and support an artistic community in Beckley.
Museum: I will turn the old Police Station into a museum, if feasible. If it isn’t feasible and we have to remove the building, I want to build a new museum on the site. The museum will house what I am calling the National Union and Labor Museum dedicated to the labor movement with emphasis on West Virginia. West Virginia workers continue to be on the front lines of the labor movement, and they deserve a place dedicated to the struggles and accomplishments of their efforts. There is also only one museum, the American Labor Museum in New Jersey, dedicated to the labor movement that I could find meaning this museum has the potential to be a national attraction if done properly.
The Underground (area between the federal building and Neville Street buildings): The Beckley Comprehensive Plan had a wonderful, financially affordable, concept for the Underground that never came to fruition. Building owners did their part operating Sir Walters Tavern, Brown Dog Bottom, Melodies, Cheers, and other establishments but the city failed to follow through in support of the efforts. Working with those property owners, I want to restart the Beckley Underground effort – this time with full support of the city. Here is the concept of the underground found in the Beckley Comprehensive Plan:
Property Owner Led Efforts/City Supporting
Downtown Beckley was the center of retail activity in the past and the infrastructure still exists to make downtown Beckley a center of specialty retail activity again. The Beckley Comprehensive Plan and the recently completed Downtown Beckley Assessment outline several specific business opportunities in the downtown area. It is up to the property owners to utilize their buildings to make downtown a specialty retail hub. There are numerous grant and loan programs that will allow property owners to renovate their buildings and the city will assist with the application and management of those grants and loans, if needed. The city may also guarantee some private loans that meet certain restrictions. Lastly, businesses started in the downtown area will be eligible for incentives and support as outlined in Position Paper #5: Economic Development.
I believe a downtown with a museum, art collective, playhouse, five local family restaurants, and 10 boutique shops all within a five-minute walk will truly revitalize our downtown. It will take the city, residents, and property owners working together to make it happen. Revitalizing downtown must be an “all in” endeavor for the city, county, and property owners and we can make this work.
Projected One Time Costs: $2.7 million - $5.7 million (or approximately the same amount of money Beckley paid for the Jim Justice County Club)
Art Collective $1 million to renovate Roche Lab Building
Museum $1 million to renovate Police Station or $3 million to build new museum plus $100,00 for exhibits
Parking Expansion $500,000 of which $200,000 has already been spent on the Earwood expansion
The parking expansion is already a part of the 2021 city budget. We will apply for grant funding to create the arts collective and museum, with some allocations from the city. The Underground upgrade we can pay for using city general funds. Isn't it sad that when it came down to it, instead of investing in our downtown, we bought a country club.
Projected Annual Costs: $210,000
Art Collective $25,000 for maintenance and utilities plus $10,000 for general operations
Museum $150,000 for staff plus $25,000 for exhibits
Annual costs can be absorbed in the current city budget.
While this is a lot of money (and it is), we are building a downtown for the future and this is not an expense as much as it is an investment, not just in our downtown, but in our entire city.
Downtown Revitalization is Economic Development. The direct impact of downtown revitalization on local and state economies is well documented. Investment in revitalization creates jobs, increases property values and attracts tourists. All of which are economic benefits to the cities making those investments. - Tom Yantis, Vice President for Community Planning, BWR Corporation
Downtown revitalization needs a leader with a vision and a plan. Downtown needs a leader with the ability balance the needs of the city and the needs of the property owners. Downtown Beckley needs a leader that can manage the personalities, needs, and passions that it will take to revitalize our downtown area. I am that leader.