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Experts spell out redevelopment ideas in Charles Town

October 21, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - A review of a plan to redevelop an old commercial area along North Street in Charles Town brought mixed reactions from a group of experts Thursday.

Bob Wulff of the Urban Land Institute and other experts in land planning spent 24 hours in the area Tuesday and Wednesday examining a plan by the towns of Charles Town and Ranson to redevelop approximately 100 acres that include empty buildings, a 7-acre parking lot, a reservoir, an old scrap yard and former granaries.

The discussion included:

· Developing a movie complex near the intersection of George and North Streets as local officials proposed would probably be difficult. With Martinsburg, W.Va., Winchester, Va., and Leesburg, Va., already offering movie complexes, it would be hard to compete with those attractions, Wulff said.

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· Wulff said a "hole in the vision" for the project is downtown housing in the Charles Town/Ranson, W.Va., area. Having more downtown housing will bring customers to area retailers, Wulff said. Having people downtown 24 hours a day means more people walking around town, eating at restaurants and shopping, Wulff said.

· Do not let Jefferson Memorial Hospital move out of the Ranson/Charles Town area, Wulff said. The hospital keeps hundreds of jobs in the downtown area, creating economic spinoff effects from the facility, Wulff said.

Such areas are sometimes referred to as "brownfields," which are sites that were once productive but have been abandoned and not redeveloped because of the real or imagined fear of environmental contamination.

Charles Town City Council member Matt Ward said Tuesday that an environmental assessment of the local properties has either shown no pollution problems or minor ones that would be easy to deal with.

For about four years, Charles Town and Ranson officials have been working on a plan to redevelop abandoned or under-utilitized commercial buildings that are clustered around a CSX line along North Street.

Last year, two public meetings gathered input on the project. Based on those meetings, officials said the project could include a new retail/entertainment district that includes a movie complex, setting aside space for high-tech companies, a new Jefferson County court facility and park facilities.

While Wulff gave local officials plenty of things to consider in the project, he praised them for their work and said the project "showed a lot of effort and creativity."

Wulff commended Charles Town officials for their $7.1 million downtown revitalization project. He encouraged city officials not to allow developers to erect anything that would "ugly up" the project.

"Don't let developers push you around on that," Wulff said.

To increase the amount of housing in the Charles Town/Ranson area, the development experts recommended building a housing complex on a 5-acre parking lot once used by the former Dixie-Narco plant. Living space in the building could be purchased or leased, officials said.

Jefferson Memorial Hospital officials have considered building a new hospital to meet the growing needs of the community. Hospital officials considered renovating the current hospital at 300 S. Preston St., or building a new facility in its place, but both alternatives appeared to be too costly, hospital officials have said.

Wulff suggested that two local businesses in the Ranson area be moved to create 18 acres for the hospital.

"That's going to be very hard to do," Wulff said after the meeting.

To make the redevelopment project successful, local officials also need to develop more sewer capacity and try to convince the Jefferson County Commission to commit to a plan to build new county government office space in Charles Town.

Having county government downtown will be attractive to developers who will likely get involved in spinoff effects from offices, Wulff said.

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