State grant to fund bulk of new I-64 visitors center
DAILY MAIL BUSINESS EDITOR
A new visitors center is planned for Interstate 64 in South Charleston, with the bulk of the funding coming from a state grant.
The South Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau and the city of South Charleston today expected to receive $316,000 from the state Department of Transportation for the travel and information facility.
The leading site for the center is a triangle-shaped lot off the Montrose Drive exit of I-64. The entrance would be on Kanawha Turnpike.
More than 75,000 vehicles pass the interchange daily, according to Jerry Legg, head of the traffic analysis section of the state Department of Transportation's Planning and Research Division.
"The Montrose Drive exit appears to have the priority but certainly, in West Virginia, property is always at a premium - so I would imagine the Jefferson Road area would be an alternative," South Charleston Mayor Ritchie Robb said this morning.
Sites off the Jefferson Road exit of Interstate 64 that should also be considered include a lot on Jefferson Road, across from McDonald's, and a lot on MacCorkle Avenue, near the Red Roof Inn, Robb said.
The lot off Montrose Drive seems to have the upper hand, Robb said, possibly "because it is viewed as closer to Charleston, and the center may serve as a sort of welcoming point to the state capital. It also might be the priority because the Jefferson Road area, in the past, has experienced some traffic problems. From my perspective, we should keep the Jefferson Road exit open for discussion.
"We'll be looking to find a suitable location that will maximize the benefits of the grant," said Robb, who added that he believes the state will ultimately make the site location decision.
Gov. Cecil Underwood was scheduled to present a check for the center today at the Wingate Inn in SouthCharleston.
Bob Anderson, executive director of the South Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau, and Larry Green, chairman of the bureau's board of directors, said they hope all of the communities in the area will participate in the staffing and operational funding of the center to promote historical sites and attractions throughout the Kanawha Valley.
"I would like to see it bring additional people into our community - not just to the center itself - but so people will take the time to visit our stores and shop, visit our hotels and restaurants. I hope it will spin off visitors into the rest of the community," Robb said.
Anderson added, "This has been one of our dreams for almost 25 years.
We're thrilled to get this off the ground. It's the largest grant we've ever received. I think it will be great for the whole valley." Green pointed out that the closest visitors' centers are in Huntington and Parkersburg and along the West Virginia Turnpike. "I see Charleston flourishing from this, as well as Dunbar and St. Albans," he said.
Dr. William Crigger, a member of the bureau's board of directors, will serve as chairman of a committee charged with spearheading the project.
"Because of where it will be located, I think this will help Charleston a lot," he said.
Plans call for construction of a building with 2,000 square feet of space. According to a rendering by N Visions Architects, South Charleston, there would be room for 67 parking spaces on the Montrose Drive lot.
Total estimated cost of the project is $395,000. Of the $79,000 in local funds needed, Anderson said his organization has $50,000 "set aside, in the bank, committed to the project. We'll probably ask the city for the rest of the money." An environmental impact study and an archeological study must be done and there must be a public comment period before work can proceed, Anderson said. It will be five or six months before ground is actually broken, he predicted.
OK, first of all I remember thinking when this story broke that there was no way that a visitors center could ever be built on this piece of land; it just looked too small for a typical interstate rest area. Here's an aerial shot. The yellow question mark is situated on the prospective site:
Since I was so skeptical of the site, I have been watching for the commencement of this project. Bob Anderson is quoted in the article that it would be 5 or 6 months before ground was broken. It's been 8 years. Does anyone know where the money went?
Seriously, someone should look into this.