Newell outlines opportunities for Parkersburg

PARKERSBURG – In his annual address to City Council Tuesday, Mayor Bob Newell said Parkersburg is at a crossroads of historic proportions and the city must be active and aggressive to make the best of the opportunities before it.

“This year and probably the next few years will likely eclipse anything we have experienced,” he said during council’s regular meeting Tuesday at the city building.

A lot of optimism is tied to the November announcement that Brazil-based Odebrecht is looking to build a petrochemical complex centered around an ethane cracker plant in Wood County, but Newell said things were headed in the right direction even before that.

He pointed to development in the downtown area like the Highmark West Virginia building and West Virginia University at Parkersburg’s downtown campus and the new businesses that followed, crediting policies advocated by his administration and advanced by City Council.

More recently, McKinley-Carter Wealth Services moved into a building at Fifth and Market streets, a group purchased the long-vacant Uptowner Inn to convert to an extended-stay hotel and Siltstone Holdings LLC, tied to a Texas-based energy sector investment company, bought Highmark’s former headquarters at Seventh and Market streets.

“These mean more employees and residents downtown and the need for more businesses downtown to support them,” Newell said.

The mayor said he expects more major announcements of investment in the city, thanks in part to incentives approved by council, like a five-year rebate of the business and occupation tax for entities filling vacant buildings, and the oil and natural gas activity that put the region on Odebrecht’s radar.

“We are talking about new hotels,” Newell said in his prepared remarks. “New medical buildings, new convenience stores and the continuing large expansion of the automobile dealerships are just a few of the developments on the horizon.”

And much of those developments were in the works before the cracker plant – which is expected to create thousands of jobs during the construction phase and hundreds at the complex itself – was announced.

But Newell warned that the window to capitalize on the opportunities that come with that facility and the other growth the area has seen will only be open so long.

“We need to make sure when the drilling is done – and it will be done one day – people still have reasons to live, work and play in Parkersburg,” he said.

Those chances have been missed in the past, Newell said, noting the city lacks the amenities of many cities, like a modern retail center, convention and event centers and minor league baseball “and until recently, even a suitable riverfront park.”

“We cannot allow history to repeat itself,” he said.

The year ahead offers an opportunity for Parkersburg to apply to participate in West Virginia’s home rule program and get out from under state rules that negatively impact businesses and residents, Newell said.

The city is also working to have a port authority approved by the state to address river transportation needs, develop the West Virginia Division of Highways property off Depot Street and install a docking facility at Point Park for recreational boating.

Newell said he expects detractors for some of these efforts, just as there were for Point Park, the skate park and other quality-of-life projects.

“We need to look past these same tired faces of discontent and remember that we were elected to be city leaders, not city followers,” he said.

After Newell spoke, council President John Rockhold thanked the mayor “for what, I think, was an inspirational challenge to all of us.”