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Vision sought for downtown Clarksburg

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- City officials have long touted revitalizing the downtown area as one of the major concerns for the long-term future of Clarksburg.

This week, business and property owners will have a chance to share ideas on how to make downtown a thriving, vital part of the city.

Kathy Wagner, executive director of the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, and Gary Martin, president of Greater Clarksburg Associates, have been working closely with the West Virginia University Extension Service. Several members of the university group have experience in helping communities and downtown business owners.

"The whole effort is designed to get the group to develop a vision of what the downtown should be," said David Hughes, associate professor and statewide extension specialist.

Officials with the university's Center for Community, Economic and Workforce Development will meet with Wagner, Martin and several downtown business and property owners from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday at Fairmont State College's Caperton Center in Clarksburg.

Wagner said there are two objectives.

The first is identifying the assets of downtown, such as businesses, recreational buildings and empty buildings that can be used for new uses.

The second is to develop a unified plan for the future. She said participants will be asked to imagine a newspaper article from the future.

"What will it say about downtown Clarksburg?" she said. "What does it say about the success of Clarksburg and how we got there?

"We think the city's downtown is very vital, especially since Clarksburg is the county seat," she said. "People come to downtown for city business, county business and the regional federal offices. We need to find a niche for downtown and develop that."

It is important to get the people who have a stake in the success in downtown to develop that vision, both Wagner and Hughes said. Studies can be conducted and plans can be developed, but unless the business owners support it, often nothing is done, Hughes said.

"It's vital for the businesses to participate in this," Wagner said. "It's really up to us to help each other out."

While similar programs have been conducted in other cities, Hughes said this was the first time he was aware of a project this extensive. Several people involved with the extension service will attend Tuesday's meeting.

Leone Ohnoutka, an extension agent in Wood County, has traveled the state and helped communities develop plans for the future.

Alison Hanham is a business research analyst who runs a program called First Impressions. Through that program, Hanham analyzes a city's hospitality, its signs and the way visitors perceive it.

A third participant is Ken Martin, who heads up the extension service's center.

"A lot of times, cities get studies done and they just sit on the shelf," Hughes said. "If you get people caught up in the vision, there's a good chance of people actually taking the next step and trying to have it lead to something good."

Staff writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com.

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