Three Cities Along I-79 Corridor Seek Conference Center Market

Times West Virginian

by Alexis McDaniel, Staff Writer

WEST VIRGINIA (Sunday, December 16, 2001)

Three cities along the Interstate-79 corridor hope to carve a niche in the conference center tourism market.

A rustic mountain lodge is being built at Stonewall Jackson Lake in Lewis County; a new Radisson Hotel is under construction at the wharf district in Morgantown; and the City of Bridgeport wants to connect with a private hotel developer for a facility, too. 

While there are several smaller centers on the corridor, the developers of the new facilities are vying for a bigger piece of the pie: Corporate business on the East Coast. 

“This property is going to be a boost to the local economy,” said Greg Parsons, manager of the Stonewall Jackson Lake project, which will open in July. 

McCabe, Henley & Durbin is the developer. Project Manager John Blagg said it’s a public-private venture with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources. The bond issue was $42 million and the state contributed $10 million, he said.

The state park already has a 2,650-acre lake, marina, multi-purpose building and camping area. But, Blagg said, the goal is to capitalize on the resort’s “mountain getaway” appeal with the addition of an 18-hole Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, cabins, biking trails and boat rentals.

Ten new cabins, featuring two to four bedrooms, stone fireplaces and a outdoorsy interior design, are in use. Twenty more are planned. 
Blagg said the resort’s centerpiece is the $16 million Adirondack Lodge.

Blackwood Associates Architect James Swiger said the lodge is home to 198 guest rooms, a spa complex, an indoor-outdoor pool and restaurants.

The14,000-square-foot conference center wing has room for 1,600 people. A grand ballroom can seat 400 people, while 13 meeting rooms offer flexibility in planning.

“I don’t think there’s anything like this in the state, right on the lake,” he said.

Benchmark Hospitality, which oversees 25 resort properties in the nation, has a 15-year contract to manage the resort. Parsons said clients are lined up already, with 2,000 group rooms booked beginning in the summer and 3,700 signed in advance for 2003.

Jim Griffith, Harrison-Marion Regional Airport manager, said he’s toured the lake property with tourism officials. “They said, ‘Wow. We can sell this,’” Griffith said.

Morgantown and Bridgeport centers

The next competing conference facility to open on the I-79 corridor will be The Radisson Hotel in early 2003, said Jack Thompson, special projects coordinator for the Morgantown Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Radisson will feature 205 guest rooms, five suits, a health club, eating facilities and an indoor pool. It will have 10,000-square-feet of flexible meeting space, including a grand ballroom and three separate board rooms.

Thompson said he expects the hotel to be a hit. The CVB gets calls weekly from folks looking for a regional site to host a conference. 
“There’s a lot we turn down because we don’t have the space yet,” Thompson said. 

Finally, the City of Bridgeport has its eye on a 10,000-square-foot conference center, linked with a privately-owned hotel next to I-79. The city opened a new visitors bureau and hired a marketing director, Gabe Fiest, in anticipation of the project.

Genesis Partners of Bridgeport is the developer. Genesis announced its proposal to turn a 2,000-acre rolling pasture into a multi-faceted planned community called Charles Pointe more than a year ago. 
Land near I-79 is being leveled, but Genesis has not finalized a deal on a hotel-conference center yet, Fiest said.

City Manager Kim Haws, however, said that Arnold Palmer Golf Course representatives have approached the city about building a public championship golf course there, too.