Major Development Expected To Surge Many Projects, Including UHC And Home Depot, Ready To Move Forward

The Exponent Telegram

Sunday, January 1, 2006

By Jim Fisher – METRO EDITOR

CLARKSBURG – 2005 was a very productive year in terms of major developments and growth in the area, and 2006 looks to be shaping up as more of the same.

Not-so-arguably leading the way were major construction projects at Charles Pointe in Bridgeport, although recent months also have seen several new large store and restaurant openings at Clarksburg’s Eastpointe and New Pointe shopping centers.

Construction also has begun on a new Enterprise Rent-A-Car on the site of the former Eastpointe Pre-owned Autos, according to Clarksburg officials.

And work on the new Home Depot, planned for the old Ames site in Bridgeport, also should begin sometime this year.

Downtown Clarksburg also has seen the start of two significant projects – a parking facility on West Pike Street and a new BB&T building at the corner of West Pike and South Fourth streets. And the long-awaited new Harrison County Recreation Complex broke ground within the last few weeks.

In all many officials say this is a very exciting time for Harrison County: There is a push to further develop to the south, and the intersection of Interstate 79 and W.Va. 279 is poised to expand over the next few years.

From Charles Pointe to the planned United Hospital Center to a proposed new Biometrics Fusion Center, what once were rolling fields lining I-79 soon will be a beehive of commercial, high-tech and residential opportunities.

"It’s always good when people in the area pull together and develop relationships. Charles Pointe was moving ahead anyway, but (the hospital) speeds it up a little more," said Jamie Corton, managing partner of Charles Pointe developer Genesis Partners. "It’s all coming together now. It just takes time."

2005 not only saw major strides for Charles Pointe, but also brought to a close the raging battle between UHC and Fairmont General Hospital.

Initially announced in December 2001, the new hospital has been delayed time and again. Even after unprecedented public hearings held by the Health Care Authority and its subsequent approval of the project, FGH appealed to every level.

It’s now been more than two years since UHC got the green light, and that delay most likely will result in a project much more expensive than original estimates.

UHC officials will spend most, if not all, of 2006 in finalizing designs and securing financing, said President Bruce Carter. Within the next couple of months, contracts should be advertised for basic site preparation, which could begin this spring.

Another less publicly visible, but just as important, project that could begin early this year is the new permanent Biometrics Fusion Center.

Planning on the project, which is slated to be built on the FBI’s fingerprint complex grounds, is well under way. Overall, about $20 million of the $26.6 million the project is estimated to cost has been allocated by Congress since 2003.

Another major step forward for Charles Pointe was approval of a tax increment financing district, which will provide millions for infrastructure. The basic idea is that a developer can defer a portion of property taxes, which are used to pay back bonds that financed infrastructure needs.

Corton expects those bonds will be sold by the middle of this year.

While he couldn’t be specific citing ongoing negations, Corton did say there are "deals happening right now as we speak" for more commercial development. Already, one large hotel has been built, another is under construction, and the Bridgeport Conference and Convention Center is "about 90 percent complete," Corton said.

Also this year, construction is expected to begin on the planned community’s two golf courses. By the basic nature of golf course design, it will probably take about two years before they are ready to be played.

In addition to all that, Corton also expects to continue seeing new homes pop up. So far, about 60 homes are in some phase of construction in the northern area, he said.

In the so-far-undeveloped southern area, Corton said there is high demand for single-family homes.

In Clarksburg, officials are generally looking at two main areas for future development: Pushing for the W.Va. 98 bypass and annexation.

"We’d like to start developing (the south) side of Clarksburg more, and I’d like to look, at annexation so Clarksburg can move ahead," said City Manger Martin Howe.