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SIU, YMCA lose out on grant requests

by Matt Harvey

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

BRIDGEPORT -- A higher education/recreation project planned for Charles Pointe no longer is in the running for a share of more than $200 million in gambling-backed grants, a state official confirmed Tuesday.

"It did not move forward for consideration," said state official Chris Morris of the $32 million funding proposal. Morris is special assistant to Brian Kastick, state secretary for tax and revenue and chair of the state Economic Development Grant Committee.

The state grant money would have been a huge step forward for the Charles Pointe development, helping fund a new YMCA as well as a bioscience project with Salem International University, both in Bridgeport.

However, a separate funding request for the Charles Pointe project is still alive. Developers Genesis Partners and the city of Bridgeport are expected to find out today whether the state Economic Development Grant Committee will approve all or part of $11.4 million. That money would fund a hotel and conference center to be located to the northeast of the Interstate 79/W.Va. 279 intersection.

Bridgeport City Manager Kim Haws said it was good news to hear that the $11.4 million had reached the final round of cuts.

As for the funding request that didn't make it, Haws said there "are always ways of making these projects work."

"It would have made it so much faster and easier had we received grant money, but our intent is to move forward aggressively and try to make the projects work regardless," Haws said.

Previously, $6.5 million of the $11.4 million hotel and conference center grant was approved for Bridgeport. But the state grant committee's work was nullified by the state Supreme Court, and the committee is going through the approval process for a second time.

"We feel fairly comfortable that we'll receive at least what we received in the first round," Haws said of today's final cuts. "But it would certainly help if we could get the full amount so we could move forward."

Richard L. Baxter, vice president for university advancement at Salem International, said the university would continue to work with developer Genesis Partners.

"We've not received any confirmation" of the grant committee's decision, Baxter said. "But our plan is to continue to ... see this project through to fruition."

Baxter said universities have various options for grant funding, plus can seek private donations. Salem International doesn't yet have a specific plan on securing other funding, Baxter added.

Bob Stemple, chairman of the YMCA's board of directors, said he believes a second YMCA facility will be operating in the eastern part of Harrison County in five years.

If the funding has been eliminated, Stemple added, "then we're back to base one, trying to determine where and how we try to get a second location in that part of the county."

A new building would cost several million dollars, Stemple said.

"A fund-raising event of that magnitude is pretty difficult, but a capital fund drive would have to be the way to finance a new facility out there, and that's a big project. So we'll start discussing at the board of directors (meetings) what our plans will be."

But as for specifics, Stemple stressed that he couldn't speak "on behalf of the board at this point since we were looking forward to the possibility of the Charles Pointe funding."

A message left with Jamie Corton, developer Genesis Partners' managing partner, was not returned Tuesday.

Assistant Managing Editor Matt Harvey can be reached at 626-1442 or by e-mail at mharvey@exponent-telegram.com