Committee approves land swap, airport funds

PARKERSBURG – A proposed land swap and $15,000 for the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport will come before City Council next week.

The city’s Finance Committee on Tuesday approved two proposals which will go before council May 14 for approval.

The committee unanimously approved a plan to acquire property at 113 Ann St. from owner Jim McCutcheon. The building sits inside of the city floodwall near Point Park, and Mayor Bob Newell said it is vital for the city to have control of that property.

“I believe the city needs to take control of that building for the future development of Point Park,” he said.

Newell said the property could be used to develop a market shop, similar to Capitol Market in Charleston. The city would lease space in the building to various businesses, such as bakers and grocers, restaurants and other eateries. The city’s Farmers’ Market could potentially be located within the building year-round.

In the past the building has been used for a variety of purposes, such as a crafts house, a consignment shop and offices for Community Resources. Newell said his son leased the building for a time as an arcade and indoor golf course, but moved his business out of the building in November. It has remained vacant since then.

In exchange for the property, McCutcheon would receive a municipal parking lot behind the Blennerhassett Museum. That lot is adjacent to another property owned by McCutcheon, and would be used to expand that property’s parking.

Newell said there is a $10,000 difference in the estimated values of the properties, so the city would be paid the difference. That cash would then be put into renovation of the building.

Newell said he was confident the city could use grants, funding through Downtown PKB and other sources to renovate the building without using any general fund dollars from the city.

The committee also approved a plan to give $15,000 from the city’s capital reserve fund to the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport to keep its control tower operational.

The tower was slated for closure in June by the FAA, but officials have been told if they are able to keep it open and operating on local funds until October, the tower could be re-funded by the federal government.

Airport manager Terry Moore spoke to the committee and said he would be asking other local entities for help in keeping the tower open. Moore said officials estimate it will cost between $60,000-$95,000 to keep the tower operating for three-and-a-half months until the federal funding is approved.

The money would be used to hire a company to staff the tower during those months, to pay utilities on the tower and to reimburse the FAA for maintenance costs.

Moore said state and federal officials have warned, if the tower closes during that time, it likely will never reopen.

“If the tower closes, the airport will survive,” he said, “but we will lose our identity. We, Parkersburg, will no longer be seen. We will be one of 5,000 tiny airports without real identities.”

Newell said he believes keeping the tower open is vital for the region and for Parkersburg.

“If you don’t have an airport, you don’t have economic development,” he said. “The closing of a tower, from a company looking in, it is one step from the airport closing.

“I think it is an important message to send to the region that we are committed to keeping the airport open.”

The proposal passed the committee 4-1. Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox was the lone no vote, and said after the meeting she voted against the funding because she felt her questions concerning use of the tower to aid in “sight landings” were not fully answered by airport officials.

Wilcox said she had not yet decided how she will vote when the matter comes before full council next week.

“I’m not sure. I will have to do a little more research,” she said.