Plush Prospects: Planned community might bring big dollars to Bridgeport

The Charleston Gazette

By Tara Tuckwiller

BRIDGEPORT  (Thursday, October 26, 2000)

Developer Jamie Corton said Wednesday he’s already talking with prospects who could bring 1,800 to 2,000

Jobs – "high-paying jobs" – to his $750 million planned community, but he’s keeping mum about who they are.

He hesitates a little before describing the luxury hotel he’s planning as "like a Greenbrier …spas, a golf course, we also want a conference center there. It’d be nice, big white exterior and everything."

He’s not sure when that might happen either.

What’s happening right now is this: Corton and his wife, Jennifer Compton Corton, are marketing their 2,000-acre planned community, Charles Pointe, to big wheels in the high-tech businesses of forensics, biotechnology and biometrics (scanning people’s fingerprints or irises in lieu of passwords and swipe cards).

They’re using land along Interstate 79 near Meadowbrook Mall that came into the family through Jennifer’s father, Charles E. ‘Jim" Compton, a northern West Virginia coal operator who invented the coal auger.

They’ve secured political help from the likes of U.S. Senators Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, and Rep. Bob Wise. They’ve got a signed agreement from West Virginia University President David Hardesty, saying his school will pitch in to help attract high-tech firms.

And they’ve got the city of Bridgeport willing to foot the $1.5 million bill for the first building in Charles Pointe, the conference center.

The conference center will be attached to a $9 million Hilton-type hotel, which is being financed by Maryland developer James Humphrey. Why not just let Humphrey pay for the whole thing?

"Most conference centers are not moneymakers," Bridgeport Mayor Joe Timms said. "It’s a way to help spur this development along."

The city will pay for the conference center by selling bonds. Eventually, the whole 2,000 acres will be annexed into the city, increasing the land area by 20 percent.

The city will also pay to extend water, sewer, streets and streetlights into the development. Timms has no idea how much that will cost, but he’s already planning to apply for federal grants to finance it.

WVU’s role in Charles Pointe is, so far, a consultant – not a financier. The written agreement does not obligate WVU to spend any public money on the commercial enterprise, but Hardesty isn’t ruling out the possibility that his school might want to build a building there and lease it to a major firm, as it has done with NASA in Fairmont.

WVU’s involvement will help attract high-tech industries, Hardesty said, because they like to locate near major research universities. WVU will talk with any prospects the Cortons can drum up, "like we would for anybody else who has 2,000 acres and millions of dollars to invest in our area," Hardesty said.

Timms hopes to start construction on the conference center by spring 2001, and be ready to rent rooms by the end of the year – the same time the I-279 connector between I-79 and U.S. 50 is supposed to be complete.

Corton said the hotel and conference center will create "dozens" of permanent jobs and "hundreds" of construction jobs. Timms wants the conference center to use only local caterers, and Corton said local builders – including Tmaro Corp. of Bridgeport – will probably be used on the development.

"We really want this to be a West Virginia thing," he said.

Charles Pointe will have about 250 houses when it’s all done, starting at about $250,000 – not counting the land on which they’ll sit. Engineering is done on that already, and Corton expects to have approval from various government agencies by winter.

He wants to break ground on the first house by mid-2001, and hopes the first person will be able to move in sometime that year.

Within seven to 10 years, Corton expects all of the roads and such to be complete. Within 15 to 20 years, Charles Pointe should be completely full, he said.

Corton is using interesting spellings – "Charles Pointe," Towne Center" – to convey the traditional sense they want to give the development.

I guess it was an English thing. We’re dealing with some international investors. We wanted to put an English spin on it."

That’s why Bridgeport residents probably won’t see any Spanish-style stucco mansions going up in Charles Pointe, he said. Unless somebody buys one of the big three-acre-family lots.

"Then, they can do anything they want," Corton said. "But it has to be tasteful."