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Economic grant recipients ready to move forward with projects

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- With a bond issue set to be complete by Christmas, some of the area's intended recipients of state Economic Development grants are talking January construction starts.

Jay Rogers, Fairmont city planner, said work on a $3.3 million parking garage for the downtown can begin as soon as bids are let out after the New Year.

The city is approved for a $2.2 million state grant for a project it recently scaled back from 406 to 275 parking spaces to fit actual funding. The city will complement the lottery-funded Economic Development Grant with a municipal bond issue it will pay back with parking revenue.

Rogers said sections of the garage, which will take up about half a city block at the corner of Adams and Madison streets, will be built out of pre-fabricated concrete. That will allow some work to begin in the coldest of weather.

"It's nice to think about," Rogers said of another building project that will coincide with garage construction. "We'll have $6 million of projects going on right in the heart of downtown Fairmont."

The other $3.1 million effort will replace the city's 1910 police and fire station. The new station will be located near the new garage, as is the recently opened Veterans' Square office building, which Rogers said is expected to be filled by early 2004.

Another area project is not construction-oriented, but funds are as eagerly awaited for it, according to Dr. Michael Yura, director of the National Biometric Security Project. That Morgantown-based effort is approved for a $2.3 million grant.

"We're doing an awful lot of planning," Yura said of launching lab testing with the funds. "We're playing a parallel chess game until those funds are available. We're not sitting."

The project is intended to complement the U.S. Army's Biometric Fusion Center in Harrison County. It will test commercial biometric security software for use by private businesses and government agencies, excluding the Department of Defense, he said.

Several other area projects, including a parking garage in downtown Clarksburg and new high-tech office space in Fairmont, are also moving faster as key deadlines pass, according to David Warner, executive director of the state Economic Development Authority.

Warner said the EDA and grant recipients are now working on individual project agreements that will manage how money will flow. He said each project will have certain benchmarks that, when they are met, will cause the release of cash. The earliest releases are likely in January.

"It's been a complex process but we are getting close to the end and we hope to get many of these projects started soon," Warner said, referring to lawsuits that stalled the bond issue for more than a year.

Chris Morris, who works with the Economic Development Grant Committee, offered another piece of good news for approved grant recipients. A group of state officials is traveling to New York Monday and Tuesday to work out final details of the bond issue with bankers.

While the group will know more following the meeting, Morris said it appears interest rates will be such that $19 million of annual lottery funding will allow a bond issue of more than $225 million. That would mean all of the approved projects will be fully funded, whereas a smaller bond issue would mean cuts to each grant.

Here is a complete list of North Central projects waiting for grant funding:

Barbour County

Belington Industrial Park, $650,000.

Lewis County

Stonewall Resort, $3.5 million.

New state fire academy at Jackson's Mill, $2 million.

Harrison County

Clarksburg parking garage and downtown improvements, $4.4 million.

Bridgeport city conference center and hotel at Charles Pointe, $6 million.

Marion County

I-79 Technology Park (West Virginia High Technology Consortium), $14.7 million.

Fairmont parking garage, $2 million.

Monongalia County

West Virginia University/Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute Inc., $10 million.

Morgantown public theater and marina, $13.9 million.

Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute at WVU, $10 million.

Morgantown parking garage/Square at Falling Run, $5 million.

National Biometric Security Project, $2.3 million.

Chaplin Hill reclaimed mine site, $1.2 million.

Randolph County

Tourism development in Elkins, $1.5 million.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com