Charles Pointe picks up the pace

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Exponent Telegram

Jim Fisher, Metro Editor Bridgeport

When Jamie Corton shared his company’s vision for a massive, $750 million master-planned community alongside Interstate 79 nearly seven years ago, it was met with a mix of optimism, excitement and even a little skepticism.

But driving along W.Va. 279 now, in the waning days of summer, it’s clear that any doubts that Corton and Genesis Partners could pull off such an ambitious plan were unfounded.

Although slow-moving in the early years, Charles Pointe is now rumbling along like snowball careening down the K2 , gathering momentum and growing exponentially with each passing day.

In fact, that entire section of Harrison County should be drastically different in the coming years with the planned White Oaks business park and the under-construction United Hospital Center across I-79.

When the $8.7 million Wingate Inn opened in November 2005, the rest of Charles Pointe was still little more than plats on paper. Now, less than two years later, the North Land Bay is nearly full, and work already has begun in the monstrous South Land Bay.

Bordered by I-79 to the west, W.Va. 279 to the south and W.Va. 131 to the east, the North Land Bay has evolved from rolling farmland to a mix of housing, retail and office buildings.

Being around Corton and listening to him talk about what’s been accomplished so far, and what’s still to come, is like talking to an excited first-time dad. This is his baby, and he’s proud of it.

“I come up here in the morning and the evening, and there’s always people walking on the sidewalks,” Corton said, sitting in his car on the flat hilltop that overlooks a pond and several businesses built to the east of the new Exxon station.

To the north of that as-yet-undeveloped plot lies Park view village, one of two housing developments in the North Land Bay .

And the hilltop won’t be empty for long, Corton says, as he already has someone on the line interested.

The transformation is stunning.

From the Bridgeport Conference Center, Microtel and under-construction Buffalo Wild Wings, this first part of Charles Pointe stretches along W.Va. 279 and includes the Exxon, Petroleum Development Corp., Fairmont Federal Credit Union, the Christie-Cutlip Office Complex, Cubby’s Day Care and a physicians’ building, not to mention the townhouses and duplexes.

And all that in less than two years. “Honestly, we really didn’t think we’d be this far along,” Corton said. “It’s just all really coming together.”

One of the newest pieces of Charles Pointe is the planned Marketplace, a six-building, 230,000-square-foot complex nestled between Barrington Manor and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Crews right now are working on a $4 million project to relocate some natural gas wells and lines in the area. Construction on Marketplace should begin in September, Corton said.

Marketplace is a microcosm of the overall plan for Charles Pointe. The six buildings are planned to include retail shops, commercial space and even loft apartments. There are leases in place and letters of intent from a half-dozen companies, Corton said, all before a single block has been laid.

“The whole idea is to get West Virginians involved. We’re hoping to have festivals and other activities,” Corton said. “There’s a lot of interest up here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s all out within two years.”

It’s little wonder that Corton can barely contain his enthusiasm when talking about the future of Charles Pointe. Although still in its developmental infancy (the completed North Land Bay represents only about 10 percent of the overall plan), Charles Pointe is garnering attention from all over.

In fact, the West Virginia Development Office points to it as a model of how to inject vitality into an area and encourage growth.

“A key to attracting businesses to the state is to have a location already prepared, so the transition is quick and the company can easily envision themselves in locations such as Charles Pointe,” said Kelley goes, secretary of the Department of Commerce.

That footprint is very important because it lays the foundation not only for what is already there, but for what may come years down the road, Goes said.

And that very concept is part of why it took several years to get to this point, Corton said. Corton and Director of Development Rob Stuart describe Charles Pointe as “environmentally sound,” meaning that all the basic groundwork already has been laid.

The entire project has been approved as a planned unit development; whole sections have been mapped out and dedicated to particular uses, such as housing, retail, commercial and recreation.

With that overall plan in hand, Genesis was able to get preapproval from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as other environmental impact studies out of the way. While that may have contributed to delays up front, it now means that the time between a company expressing interest in construction and completion of the project is drastically reduced.

There’s little doubt that Charles Pointe already is impacting Bridgeport; but the potential to affect the entire county – even the wider region – is almost inevitable.

“This has definitely had an impact on some of the larger companies wanting to come here,” said Harrison County Commission President Ron Watson. “We’ve been talking to Northrop Grumman, and we know we’re in the running for some major jobs.”

But it’s not just Charles Pointe, Watson said, it’s really the entire I-79 corridor from Morgantown down to northern Lewis County that is not only benefiting, but also contributing.

Watson noted that companies are looking at the airport for possible relocation; the West Virginia High Tech Consortium continues to grow; and there is even new development around the Jane Lew area.

“That whole area up there just has a snowball effect,” he said.

Joan Keith, marketing director for the North Central West Virginia Regional Airport agreed, saying that a development such as Charles Pointe is a great positive when marketing air service.

“The fact that there are two hotels less than two miles away, and meeting and convention facilities … that’s always a positive,” she said.

The overall numbers are staggering. When completed, Charles Pointe will encompass roughly 1,700 acres, have 2.6 million square feet of commercial and retail space and 2,300 residential units. And parks, recreation facilities and miles of walking trails.

But for Corton and the rest of the team at Genesis, it’s not just about Charles Pointe. In fact, Corton wants to get more involved with Clarksburg ’s revitalization efforts, saying it’s critical for there to be progress all across the county.

Corton is also excited about the prospect of even more businesses connected with White Oaks and the new hospital.

“They say rising tides lift all boats,” he said.