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Charles Town council member seeks redevelopment study

October 21, 2000

Charles Town council member seeks redevelopment study



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Walking along the area of the CSX railroad tracks that parallel North Street in Charles Town, you can see one abandoned commercial building after another.

A rusted grain elevator juts into the air with trees growing through its structures. Nearby an old scrap metal shop shows its age by its weathered state.

Overgrown lots and remnants of other businesses that used to exist in the area make up the rest of the landscape.

When Charles Town Council member Matt Ward looks at the area, he sees something else. Ward sees potential for a thriving business area, where high-tech buinesses could set up shop.

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Other city officials are thinking about developing new park facilities in the area, which Ward said would be an excellent addition to not only the community, but the workers who could be employed in the area as well.

In the neighboring town of Ranson, City Manager Dave Mills is thinking along the same lines.

Mills said there are areas in Ranson where commercial properties are underutilized, and he wants to partner with Charles Town to create what is being called a new commercial corridor to make maximum use of the buildings.

"If we can come up with a plan to make the whole community economically vibrant, it helps everybody. We think this is a really good idea," Mills said.

Last week, a proposal to redevelop the old commercial areas in Charles Town was made to the City Council. Ward suggested the Brownfield Restoration Group of Frederick, Md., be paid $4,000 to put together a redevelopment plan for the two towns.

If the proposal is approved Brownfield Restoration Group, which specializes in redeveloping former commercial properties, would also be responsible for applying for a $250,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

There may be toxic substances on the properties, and the grant money would be used to identify such substances and determine the cost of their cleanup, Ward said.

Ward and Mills declined to say who owns some of the properties. They want to have a chance to meet with the property owners first.

Working with property owners on such a project could involve sensitive issues, especially if there are contaminants present. Talking openly about the areas could spoil the plan, Ward said.

One idea under consideration is to have city officials work with property owners to sell them to another entity for redevelopment. Another option would be for the city to work with the property owners to redevelop the land, Ward said.

Ward envisions laying fiber optic lines throughout the project area to serve new businesses.

Although Charles Town would probably be unable to attract the size and scope of high-tech buinesses like some areas in Northern Virginia, the area is close enough that it could enjoy some spin-off effects, Ward said.

The new businesses could be ones that heavily rely on computers or the Internet to deliver services, Ward said.

West Virginia is beginning to seek more high-tech business, Ward said.

Congress is working on a proposal to put a $1.8 million high-tech business park in Hinton, W.Va., and Gov. Cecil Underwood has been supportive of expanding a high-tech economy, Ward said.

"So our state and our region is moving in this direction. There is a lot going on," Ward said.

Mills said there are several commercial properties in Ranson around the Beltline Avenue area, less than a mile away, where only a portion of the buildings are being used. At the former site of the Ranson Fruit Co. along Beltline Avenue, most of the buildings that made up the complex have been torn down and the remains are still piled there.

"It doesn't hurt to have a plan on paper saying what this could be," Mills said.

Although the Charles Town Council finance committee has not decided whether to pay Brownfield Restoration the money to put together a plan, Mayor Randy Hilton said he supports the project.

It only makes sense that if buildings have outlived their usefulness, there should be an effort to find a new use for them, Hilton said.

The plan has not been presented to the Ranson Town Council yet, Mills said.

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