By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD — City officials in Bluefield are taking a high-tech approach toward marketing available properties and sites to prospective tenants.
A new interactive mapping system for the city, which includes video tours of existing buildings that are available for lease or purchase, is now online, Jim Spencer, the city’s Community and Economic Development Coordinator, told members of the Bluefield Board of Directors Tuesday.
At the moment, 13 vacant structures are included in the GIS (Geographic Information System), including the old Kroger and Kmart buildings on Cumberland Road. Video tours also are provided of several structures, including the old AAA Travel Agency building in the downtown.
In addition to reaching prospective industries and businesses, Spencer said the interactive approach, including cell phone apps, is critical to reaching a younger generation, also known as millennials.
“There are two things I’ve learned in marketing,” Spencer said. “It’s not who you say you are in your community. It is what Yahoo and Google says you are. The second thing I’ve learned about marketing is if we don’t tell our story, someone else will and you probably won’t like how they tell it. That is why we are pushing for all of this with our app and trying to reach millennials.”
Spencer said Rebecca Kasey, a marketing specialist, and Brandon Saddler, a GIS analyst, both work in the community and economic development office, and are developing the interactive system for the city.
“The old Kroger location is listed on it,” Spencer said. “So we are actively marketing that site.”
City Manager Dane Rideout also addressed the situation with the old Kroger building Tuesday, and the city’s now finalized settlement agreement with K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc.
“With KVAT, obviously you have all read in the (news)paper, and I’ve gotten both sides of the coin on this piece,” Rideout said. “First I want to compliment Brian Cochran who made this happen, and Tom Cole and the last board. There was a piece in there on the contract negotiations where it talked about where K-VA-T stated in their process that they wouldn’t put a grocery store in there. You noticed where the city came back. I want to clarify this. They had no intentions of putting a grocery store in there. But they would try to put a retail space in there. When they said they weren’t going to put a grocery store in there, we came and said here is the deal, if — and I’m going to look at Jim — if Jim goes out and finds a company that wants to put a grocery store in the old Kmart building, I don’t want K-VA-T then going in there and putting a grocery store in there (the old Kroger). So it is sort of an offensive move to make sure predatory moves like that don’t happen. This is a two-year agreement. After two years we will relook at this. I can tell you that Jim is actively pursuing retail businesses. We are pursuing this with K-VA-T and the owner of the complex because we want to get something back in there. I’ve seen a lot of social media traffic on this. But trust me we are working on it.”
In August 2016, the city filed a lawsuit against K-VA-T seeking $37,000. The suit was the result of a new city ordinance which required any building that has been vacant for at least 180 days to be inspected. Inspections cost $1 per square foot, so the city was seeking the fee for inspecting the 36,724-square foot space. In June, after a series of offers and counter offers between the city and the company, an agreement was reached before the case went to federal court. The settlement agreement was finalized last week.
In other action, Mayor Ron Martin said he would like the board to consider a resolution supporting the upcoming $1.6 million road bond referendum election in West Virginia. The referendum vote is scheduled for Oct. 7. Dubbed the “Roads to Prosperity” plan by Gov. Jim Justice, the referendum would also support the King Coal Highway project in Mercer County.
The next section of the King Coal Highway in Mercer County slated for construction would extend from the Christine West Bridge — more commonly known as the Bridge to Nowhere — to the area of Route 123 and the Mercer County Airport. Once completed this would create a usable section of the local Interstate 73/74/75 corridor near Bluefield.
“I think it is very important for the city of Bluefield and our future for that road to continue and receive the funding that is necessary,” Martin said.
In other business, Art Riley, head of the Downtown Merchants Association, asked Spencer and the board for an update on when construction will begin on renovations to the new Commercialization Station on Princeton Avenue.
“I do have one question with regard to our last board meeting,” Riley said. “We OK’d the lean for the Commercialization Station, but I’m still trying to get a handle on when things are going to happen on the Commercialization Station. Hopefully Jim can help us with that today.”
“The biggest thing is we can’t control when the federal government approves the plan so we can advertise for bid,” Spencer said. “The federal government may take 30 days, may take 60 days may even take 90 days. We can’t advertise for bid until the federal government approves the plan.”
In other action Tuesday, the board passed a resolution proclaiming Sept. 10 through 16 as Suicide Prevention Week in Bluefield. According to the resolution, suicide is now the 11th leading cause of all deaths in the state of West Virginia and the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34.
Several board members, including Mike Gibson, Matt Knowles and Barbara Thompson Smith, also encouraged citizen participation in the “Out of Darkness Walk” that will take place on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. at Chicory Square in downtown Bluefield.
“We encourage everyone to go out and talk to your loved ones or others who have been touched by suicide,” Gibson said.
In other action Tuesday, the board approved a supplemental resolution for sewer surplus revenue notes sought by the Bluefield Sanitary Board. There is no rate increase for customers of the Bluefield Sanitary Board associated with the financing plan.
Rideout said the agreement will allow for the start of construction on a sanitary system improvement project at the intersection of College and Maryland avenues.
— Contact Charles Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org