A laundry list of Who's Who could be found in the auditorium of the American Public University System's Administrative Building Monday as a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Charles Town/Ranson community revitalization projects.
The two towns, along with APUS, kicked off the $104 million project with officials arriving from several federal agencies who have awarded grants to the efforts. Also on hand were state and local officials including Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and the entire legislative contingency for Jefferson County. A taped message from Sen. Jay Rockefeller was aired and remarks written by Sen. Joe Manchin were also shared.
The projects, according to Andy Blake and Joe Cosentini, city managers of Ranson and Charles Town respectively, will include construction of 1.5 mile green corridor along Fairfax Blvd. Connecting the Potomac Marketplace with downtown Charles Town. The project has been awarded to local company, Jefferson Asphalt, for a little over $9 million.
The corridor will begin in Charles Town at the historic Charles Washington Hall, which will see a $4 million renovation. When completed, the building will serve as community center of sorts including a public food market, a visitor's center and cultural space.
The route reaches Potomac Marketplace on the opposite end where it will lead travelers to the new addition of the Frank Theater. According to Rick Albertson, vice present o of Frank Entertainment who was on hand for the ceremony, the theater will offer all leather seating that can be reserved online. At least three of the theaters to be 3-D compatible. The venue will also include an IMAX theater, 16 lanes of bowling and a sports bar and restaurant.
Other portions of the construction to come from the grant awards and matching funds from up to 32 partners, include Powhatan Place which is situated on the former Badger-Powhatan foundry in Ranson. The $16 million Town Center will offer mixed uses including retail, commercial and residential. The grant funding began with funds to clean up and re-use a brownfields site. Demolition of the current site will begin Jan. 1, Blake shared.
APUS will also expand their facilities within the two towns. President of the online university, Wallace Boston, shared comments about the university's initial move to the area and its plans for future expansion.
They will renovate the old ABC building behind the Academic Center, Boston said. In addition, a parking deck will be built across George Street from the Academic Center, and later two new buildings of yet undetermined use will be built as well.
The university bought or renovated 20 buildings and has more than 600 employees working in Charles Town and Ranson since they relocated here in 2002. It has 100,000-plus online students taught by more than 2,000 full- and part-time faculty
Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith expressed thanks to all partners involved in the construction projects. She shared that a study by the Charles Town council has shown that more individuals now commute into Charles Town and Ranson to work than commute out, in large part due to APUS..
West Virginia Department of Transportation Director Paul Mattox lauded the efforts of the two towns as he shared that these towns are now national models for these types of green projects and revitalization efforts.
"The transportation improvements in the Eastern Panhandle continue to be a top priority for the DoH," Mattox said. "The area is crucial for the economic success of the state." Speakers from the US. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development echoed the sentiments of Mattox regarding the hard work and diligence of the two towns in seeking grant funding and moving forward with projects of this caliber.
Jan. 1 will mark the construction phases of the green corridor and the demolition of the buildings at what will be Powhatan Place. Blake indicated a timeline of 18 months for the roadway which will offer the only connector road from Route 9 to downtown Charles Town that will not cross an in-use railroad track.