The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 25, 2013

Council sees businessman’s vision for ‘the hole’

BECKLEY — Dan Bickey, owner of McBee’s Irish Pub and the Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre, brought two blueprints to Common Council Tuesday night, showing his thoughts on how “the hole” in Uptown Beckley would best be utilized.

The property was left vacant after a fire destroyed several businesses, including a law office owned by John Mize. Mize owns one piece of the property and the City of Beckley owns the other.

Bickey is suggesting that a memorial statue of the late Senator Robert C. Byrd be placed in the center of the section on the corner of Neville Street and Heber Street, surrounded by decorative pavement and benches.

For the other section on Heber Street, Bickey suggested a rain garden, a flag and a planting area. These conceptual studies for the proposed memorial park were assembled by J. Dan Snead & Associates.

“Buildings would crowd space and take away from the courthouses,” Bickey said to Council. “This is a great location. Coal mining is going down and people are getting thrown out of work. We need something to attract people downtown.”

He said a green space is needed for the central focal point of Uptown Beckley.

As for the statue of Robert C. Byrd, Bickey told Council he would take care of the statue, he just wants them to focus on the property purchase and turning the area into a green space.

“We would get national recognition for a statue of Senator Byrd.”

“We’re wasting time,” Bickey said.

He urged Council, no matter the cost, to buy the piece of property from Mize.

Mayor Emmett Pugh said Mize has already invested $50,000 in architectural designs and Mize has expressed interest in rebuilding his law office.  

“Is that property worth $200,000?” Pugh asked. He said that is the price Mize was asking for it, but when the city had it appraised, it was only appraised for $40,000.

“I have spent $5 million on Neville Street,” Bickey replied. “The city has done nothing but sidewalks.”

He said the city needs to start refocusing its efforts on tourism because the mining industry is struggling.

In his other blueprint plan, he shows an additional 33 parking spaces and spaces for five retail shopping areas on Neville Street.

He said his goal is to make Uptown Beckley more like Lewisburg, and he noted that 70 percent of Lewisburg’s retail business comes from Raleigh County.

- - -

Under new business, Robertson discussed the recent closure of Theatre West Virginia.

“I think Council should take a hard look at how to carry on the dramas.”

He said Dan Bickey has said he is open to hearing ideas about incorporating the dramas at the Raleigh Playhouse and Theater.

“I would also like for Byrd White to take a look at the financial records of Theatre West Virginia and see what, if anything, can be done,” Robertson said.

Councilman Tom Sopher also said he was saddened about the closing of TWV and would be willing to do whatever Council can to help.

“There’s no doubt that the loss of Theatre West Virginia was a blow to the city, a blow to Raleigh County and a blow to the state of West Virginia,” Pugh added.

“I don’t think they know how big of a role Theatre West Virginia played in this area. How do you replace that?”

He said he is “sorry that the powers that be in Charleston did not see the importance of Theatre West Virginia.”

Pugh noted that a lot of funding went to Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, but $20,000 of funding was cut for TWV.

- - -

Doris J. Boyden-McCormick and Rebecca Cook were re-appointed to the Human Rights Commission and Shirley Davis was newly appointed to the Human Rights Commission. Gary Sutphin was reappointed to the Convention Center Board. All of their terms will expire July 1, 2016.

Recorder-treasurer Byrd White, Councilmen-at-Large Tim Berry and Cedric Robertson, and controller Beverly Rinehart were appointed to the audit committee for the city audit.

Although the lowest bid was received from FPS, Council awarded a bid for the log cabin restoration to Allegheny Restoration for $92,462.

Robertson said Allegheny Restoration was the “more responsible candidate for the job.”

City Attorney Bill File noted that of the two lowest bidders, Allegheny Restoration was the only with experience in restoring log cabins.

Insurance money and grant money will cover the cost of the renovations.

A resolution was approved for open burning of vegetation from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31.

Property owners must notify the Beckley Fire Department prior to burning vegetation and open burning cannot affect the health, safety, comfort or property of any person.

Four resolutions for Governor’s Highway Safety Grants were approved Tuesday. The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles approved $230,000 for the West Virginia Lifesavers Project, $493,530 for the West Virginia Coalfields Highway Safety Program, $546,820 for the Law Enforcement Liaison Project and $653,500 for the Southern Regional Highway Safety Program.

A proclamation was approved for Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 6-12 to urge all citizens to protect their homes and families by heeding important safety messages and to support the many public safety activities and efforts of the Beckley Fire Department.

Under old business, Councilwoman Ann Worley noted that there were 82 people at the Comprehensive Plan public visioning meeting. She said the next step will be focus groups in October to focus on the information from the public feedback.

Councilman Mike Atterson asked Mayor Pugh about Sheridan Avenue and the safety concerns brought to his attention by residents. Pugh said that the Beckley Police Department has been patrolling the area and there are traffic counters in place. Although it is not a high traffic area, he said some motorists are traveling above the speed limit.

“We’re proactively working on it.”

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