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W.Va. town mulls major downtown revitalization

August 09, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - Shepherdstown officials are considering a comprehensive revitalization of the downtown shopping area, a project that would not only address obvious needs such as replacing buckling sidewalks, but possibly involve closing a block in town to develop a park.

The idea started when people acknowledged that something needed to be done about the town's sidewalks, said Shepherdstown Town Council member Hank Willard.

Describing the sidewalks as in "appalling condition," Willard said some sections of brick sidewalks have buckled, causing hazardous conditions, and in other areas, sidewalks are nothing but mud and rubble.

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Similar to a recent $7.1 revitalization of downtown Charles Town, W.Va., Shepherdstown officials also are considering burying overhead utility lines, planting additional trees and setting up planters, Willard said.

Officials also have discussed closing a one-block area downtown and establishing a park, Willard said.

"It's just an idea at this point. I think it's a worthy one," Willard said of the park.

The effort got under way last Monday when local residents were invited to a meeting at the Entler Hotel to offer their input, Willard said.

While broad support has been shown for repairing sidewalks, many people at the meeting emphasized that any revitalization should not change the character of the town, Willard said.

Shepherdstown has carved its own niche with a mix of upscale restaurants, a live music scene and a variety of other shops.

It also is home to Shepherd University, which provides an additional economic boost to the community through events like the Contemporary American Theater Festival.

Those who spoke at last Monday's meeting said Shepherdstown should not be "over-improved," that existing trees should not be removed and that an emphasis should be placed on accessibility to the handicapped, Willard said.

After considering the public comments and reviewing the most pressing needs, View Engineering will help formulate a preliminary conceptual plan of what the project could involve, Willard said. Costs then will be determined and funding sources will be identified, he said.

Willard said it is too early to tell how much the project will cost.

"We don't know how much we can accomplish and how quickly," Willard said.

Willard said more public participation will be encouraged as the project proceeds.

Some downtown business owners support the idea, especially replacement of sidewalks.

Jessica Radlich, an employee at Sky's The Limit, a boutique at 107 E. German St., said she remembered when a man fell on a section of sidewalk and broke his jaw.

An issue that should be considered is increasing parking in town, Radlich said.

Visitors like to drive to Shepherdstown and walk through the town, but often have trouble finding a parking space, Radlich said.

Laird Marshall agreed, saying the problem is compounded when Shepherd University students are in town.

"There's not enough parking for either (students or the visitors)," said Marshall, dining room manager of the Yellow Brick Bank restaurant.

Marshall said the town also needs to do something about parking meters, which have a 45-minute maximum. The meters used to allow people to park longer, but were shortened to 45 minutes, he said.

If people are enjoying a meal at a restaurant or shopping, they should not have to worry about how much time is left in their meters, Marshall said.

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