Chamber, EDA Set Goals in Revitalization Efforts

Members of the Wellsburg Chamber of Commerce and Brooke County Economic Development Authority have set several goals in efforts to revitalize the downtown Wellsburg business district.

Plans were made Wednesday to identify owners of vacant buildings and lots who may work with the groups to entice new businesses to their properties, survey residents about the kinds of businesses and attractions they would like to see offered and provide assistance to potential entrepreneurs.

EDA members Paul “Bud” Billiard and Norm Schwertfeger said property owners could be encouraged to lower their rent temporarily for tenants opening small businesses in their buildings.

“A building with some income is better than one with none. Buildings need life to survive,” said Billiard, noting unoccupied structures often become dilapidated.

Schwertfeger suggested the boards could consider acquiring a building to house a new business or two until they are able to support their own locations.

Chamber member Charles Bell suggested promoting one or more specific areas of the city in newspapers in Pittsburgh and other metropolitan areas to attract real estate investors there.

Frank Johnson, a member of the city’s urban redevelopment authority, said social media is an inexpensive way to draw attention to the city.

Chamber member Tim Pierce said videos about available property can be posted on Youtube.

The approach has been taken in recent years by the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, with brief videos focused on former industrial sites the economic development agency is working to repurpose as well as the communities in which they are located.

Wellsburg City Manager Steve Maguschak said a list of vacant building owners has been compiled. The list has been used to pursue fees assessed to owners who fail to use or sell their buildings through an ordinance approved by Wellsburg Council in recent years.

Mayor Sue Simonetti said the city’s urban development authority also has tried to work with property owners. She noted the board named three properties, including a car wash and two unused gas stations, in its Commerce Street redevelopment plan.

The move allows funding for public cleanup efforts to be pursued for the three.

Simonetti noted two of the sites are being prepared for sale, while the car wash has reopened under a new owner.

Schwertfeger presented a proposed survey to gauge residents’ wishes for new businesses and recreational activities.

Local resident Heather Stone recommended capitalizing on the city’s riverfront property, and local Realtor Mary Fran Kowalo suggested more activities for children, including a play area for the Wellsburg Town Square.

Billiard encouraged everyone to have an open mind when considering new development for the city.

“We have to be different if we’re going to make this work. It (the city) isn’t going to change if we don’t change,” he said.

David Klick, chamber president, noted a new Ohio River bridge is to be built south of the city and a power plant is planned for the Cross Creek area. He said the city should be prepared to capitalize on such developments.

Simonetti said of the groups’ collaboration, “Working together like this — I’m really excited about the cooperation we’re seeing right now.”

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