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Report offers ideas for redevelopment success

January 05, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

While there has been praise for the way the cities of Charles Town and Ranson, W.Va., are pursuing a major redevelopment of an old commercial area along North Street, experts who are helping the cities with the project say there are "uncertainties" that threaten its success.

Some of those uncertainties seem to be working out in favor of the plan, while others remain murky.

To increase the chances that the cities will be able to redevelop a roughly 100-acre area along North Street, a report by the Urban Land Institute says that county government needs to stay in Charles Town, that Jefferson Memorial Hospital needs to stay in the Charles Town and Ranson area, and sewer capacity needs to be expanded, among other issues.

The Urban Land Institute report says it is important to have county government offices and Jefferson Memorial Hospital in the Charles Town and Ranson area because they will help spur the economic renewal local officials are seeking.

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The county government offices in downtown Charles Town serve as an "anchor" and there can be economic spinoff effects from them, the Urban Land Institute report says.

It is important to have Jefferson Memorial in the two-city area because its 400 employees and 56 doctors will continue to shop and eat lunch downtown, the report says.

The revitalization effort can succeed without the hospital, "but keeping this economic engine nearby will speed the revitalization of the commerce corridor and the entire community," the report says.

The report says it appears there is no additional sewer capacity available in the area, and without it, economic development will be "impossible."

In an attempt to meet the future space needs of the county, the Jefferson County Commissioners have considered moving county offices out of the downtown area.

County Commissioner Greg Corliss said Tuesday he does not believe county offices will be moved out of Charles Town. The commissioners made an open invitation for anyone in the county to send the commissioners possible proposals or possible sites for new government offices outside of town, Corliss said.

There were no responses.

Corliss said there are a couple of proposals being considered for building new county office space downtown, and although there has not been a new vote on whether to tear down the former Jefferson County Jail, Corliss said he does not believe there are enough votes to level it.

"I'm not going that far yet," said County Commissioner Jane Tabb, who voted to tear down the jail. Although Tabb agreed Tuesday with Corliss that county offices probably will stay downtown, she thinks keeping the jail might be a different story.

When some commissioners look at the cost of reusing the old jail, it "might blow some people's minds away," Tabb said.

Regarding Jefferson Memorial Hospital, hospital officials have considered moving to a new location because the current hospital in Ranson has space limitations and because parts of its layout are not conducive to efficient operations.

There are three railroad lines in the vicinity of the hospital and they can tie up incoming ambulances when trains are passing through, hospital officials have said.

The Urban Land Institute report suggests that a way to keep the hospital in the Charles Town and Ranson area is to find another site for it in the proposed redevelopment area.

Although he said no one has talked to him about the idea, John Sherwood, the hospital's chief operating officer, said he has heard that a possible site being suggested for the hospital would be near the Boys and Girls Club of Jefferson County, which is along North Lawrence Street.

The problem with that proposal is that the hospital would be dealing with the same type of railroad drawbacks at that site, Sherwood said. He said he also is concerned about having enough room for parking and to expand.

Despite the drawbacks, Sherwood said he is open-minded.

"We're willing to talk to anybody. Clearly, a hospital is looked at as a positive thing," Sherwood said.

Regarding sewer capacity, the City of Charles Town has applied to the state Public Service Commission and to the state Division of Environmental Protection for permission to expand its sewer plant, said Charles Town Council member Matt Ward.

Although there is a fear among some people in the county that expanding sewer capacity will result in more development in rural parts of the county, the city is focusing on providing service where development already is occurring, Ward said.

The 100-acre area that Charles Town and Ranson officials hope to redevelop currently consists of empty buildings, a seven-acre parking lot, a reservoir, an old scrap yard and former granaries.

Local officials want to transform the areas by building office space and a technology center to attract high-tech businesses. They also want to develop a retail and movie complex, build multifamily housing and build new recreation areas.

On Monday night, Charles Town City Council members agreed to continue pursuing the project and consider additional recommendations.

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