MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — City Manager Paul Brake has a defined vision for the future of the riverfront area, one that includes kayaking, boating, walking, and small cafes; but most importantly, it’s a vision that includes people.
Now, that vision is one step closer to reality. The city accepted a $4.1 million grant from the Hazel Ruby McQuain Charitable Trust Tuesday to finance the renovation project, which could take up to two years to complete.
“It is our hope that this will spur on other private investment of other properties along the riverfront area,” he said. “This is a part of the rebirth, the renaissance, whatever you want to term that, of the riverfront area. We’re very excited about the possibilities.”
Brake sees this as an opportunity for “place making,” which he describes as coming in three categories — home, work, and where we choose to spend our recreation time. Brake believes the new riverfront, when completed, will be a popular destination for those seeking that third category.
“From an overall perspective, this is really a jewel of the community,” he said. “The river is truly under utilized and should be our greatest asset. It’s really the front door to the community as you enter into Morgantown.”
Conservatively, he estimated a return on investment about of about $1.50 for every dollar spent on the project, which required no matching funding from the city. But, it comes at the cost of the Garrett Street Bus Depot. That depot, used by Mountain Line Transit Authority, is expected to close this summer after the majority of WVU students leave for break.
“Once that’s under construction, they wouldn’t have access to that,” Brake said. “Practically, it does make sense that they could be at a different location and really minimize the impact to riders.”
Mountain Line Transit Authority leaders have expressed concern over the aforementioned impact on riders, which could include route changes and time changes. Without a dedicated funding source, the Transit Authority will have to move the depot to their Westover location. They voted Wednesday morning to do just that.
“If you’re going from one bus to another, that transport point will be over at Westover,” Brake said. “Not at this location.”
The full impact on riders remains unclear, but Mountain Line Transit Authority Executive Director Dave Bruffey told WAJR late last year that a future impact should be expected by riders. He also said there would be ancillary costs for reprinting pamphlets if routes and times do change.
“The Board of Directors thought process was to make that move during the summer months while WVU is in the Summer Semester and there’s just not as many students — really minimizing the impact,” he said. “And have that up and operating in the Westover location when students return for the Fall Semester.”
The city will now move to the bidding process, prepping for a series of different construction options that will lead to the expansion of the amphitheater stage and seating area, additional canopies above the seats for shade relief, upgrades to security features and entertainment equipment, a police sub-station, improvements to the historic train depot, and upgrades to the restroom facility. The renovations are also going to hit the Walnut Street Landing, including a new parking lot, landscaping, kayak storage and launch, and the utilities to connect to a large boat dock.
“Having those attractive amenities would bring people down where they would want to spend their leisure time, recreation, and that sort,” Brake said.
The space will be run by a new, full-time employee. $150,000 will be contributed to an annual special fund for ongoing maintenance and upgrades to the park, which will be capped at $1 million. A press release sent out by the city earlier this week describes the future of the area as a “dynamic multipurpose recreation area better suited to house festivals, large musical acts, and grow into a more extensive community gathering space.”
“It has the potential to accommodate small start-ups to other type of businesses that potentially could call that area home,” Brake said.
In the meantime, Brake said city leaders were enormously excited by the possibilities for the future of the city.
“We’re just very thrilled about this,” he said. “This is the beginning of the renaissance of Morgantown.”
Construction is expected to begin in the Spring.