Building A Vision: Giant Planned Community Grows Slowly Near Bridgeport

Sunday Gazette-Mail - Charleston, West Virginia

by Tara Tuckwiller, STAFF WRITER

BRIDGEPORT (Sunday, January 5, 2003)

Remember Charles Pointe?

More than two years ago, developers trumpeted that a $750 million planned community — complete with more than 200 houses, an 18-hole golf course and up to three hotels — would soon sprawl over 2,000 acres along Interstate 79 in Harrison County.

They hoped to have a family in the first house by the end of 2001. By the same time, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Timms hoped to be booking conventions in Charles Pointe’s conference center.

That didn’t come to pass. But don’t take the past two years’ relative silence about Charles Pointe as a sign that nothing’s happening.

“We prefer to do our work quietly,” said Robert Stuart of Genesis Partners, the project’s developer.

You can’t see the fruits of that work from I-79 — yet. But if you drive north along the newly six-laned highway, and look to your right just as you pass Meadowbrook Mall, you’ll see grassy hills that mark the beginning of Charles Pointe’s two-mile interstate frontage.

You’ll see cattle grazing in the hollow where the golf course will be. At the Jerry Dove Drive exit, if you look straight ahead, you’ll see that 1-79 curves around a plateau that will be crowned by Charles Pointe’s conference center.

That conference center will be the first building in Charles Pointe, thanks to a $6 million grant from the state Economic Development Grants Committee.

That state money will extend water, sewer and roads into Charles Pointe. The city of Bridgeport will spend $2.7 million — including $1.3 million in federal money — to build and furnish a four-story conference center with 124 hotel rooms.

That will be finished by spring 2004, Stuart said. Office buildings will come next; local doctors, accountants and other professionals are already interested in moving their offices into Charles Pointe, he said.

Then will come a 135-room, Hilton-type hotel; retail shops; a grocery store; houses in a tree-lined cul-de-sac; apartments; horse, pedestrian and bike trails; an amphitheater; and the golf course, which Arnold Palmer representatives are reportedly interested in building.

But all that’s years in the future. For now, Genesis Partners is concentrating on the 150 acres immediately surrounding the conference center — and last month, Bridgeport annexed it.

“Most likely, this entire property will be in the city” eventually, Stuart said.

1,942 permanent jobs

Stuart drove through Bridgeport, pointing out changes in the town of 7,300.

“That’s where the old stockyard was,” he said, pointing to a Rite Aid. “I remember that from when I was a kid.”

Farmers take their cattle to Weston, in nearby Lewis County, now.

“There are fewer farms now,” Stuart said.

There will be one less when Charles Pointe is finished. The 2,000 acres it will occupy has been owned for generations by the family of coal operator Charles E. “Jim” Compton, who started Grafton Coal in 1942 and invented the Compton coal auger and Compton flexible miner.

Today, the rolling hills are dotted with round hay bales. “A year ago, they had 200 head of buffalo up here,” Stuart said, as he drove past a red barn and onto an access road.

Compton’s daughter, Jennifer Compton Corton, and her husband James Corton founded Genesis Partners. They’ve put Grafton Coal employees to work — not in coal mines, which are scarce in north central West Virginia these days, but grading Charles Pointe’s first 150 acres and cutting in drainage ponds.

You can see the equipment moving earth if you drive on the new four-lane, W.Va. 279, that was just completed in May to link I-79 to U.S. 50. The road bisects Charles Pointe, but it includes a pedestrian underpass so the development’s future tenants won’t have to cross the road at all.

Within six years, the small section of Charles Pointe that lies north of the new road should be complete, Stuart said. It will have offices, shops and the conference center, with a total of 1,942 permanent jobs.

Eventually, Charles Pointe will have another hotel, the Hilton- type one with 135 rooms. Genesis Partners announced in 2000 that a Maryland developer would build and pay for the hotel, but that deal fell through. Now, Genesis has three more developers interested in the hotel, Stuart said.

And, of course, there’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s fingerprint center just down Jerry Dove Drive; the Benedum airport adjacent to Charles Pointe, which plans to flatten a hill to open up land with runway access for aerospace companies; and United Hospital Center, which plans to move from Clarksburg and build a new, $200 million hospital right next to Charles Pointe.

All those workers will need houses. Stuart pointed out a wooded slope where they’ll be.

“We’re going to keep the slopes, keep the West Virginia look,” he said. “This whole concept is an idea of what West Virginia can be.”