Parkersburg Homecoming kicks off today

PARKERSBURG – Planning for the 2014 Parkersburg Homecoming Festival started just weeks after the 2013 edition ended.

Today, all the work starts to pay off.

“It’s pretty exciting to see everybody’s work come together,” said Sherry Valentine, 2014 Homecoming president.

Valentine and other volunteers were setting up the Homecoming headquarters, flea market and vendor spaces Thursday afternoon, and she said things were running smoothly.

“I have a great committee of people to work with,” she said.

City of Parkersburg workers have been getting the city ready for its closeup over the last couple of weeks, setting up electrical service and painting markers for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half-Marathon course, Mayor Bob Newell said.

“They started wiring the downtown area last Monday,” he said. “They’ve been cleaning the race route. … They’ve driven the streets to make sure there’s not any holes (that are) a danger to the runners.”

In addition, crews have trimmed grass, trees and bushes. All that work has been incorporated into their regular duties, Newell said, but overtime will be accrued throughout the weekend as police officers provide security and block traffic for the race and parade, sanitation workers collect trash at the end of each night and other services are performed.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to see others,” Newell said of the festival. “It’s just an enjoyable weekend downtown.”

Mark Lewis, president of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it’s hard to quantify the economic effects of Homecoming, but he doesn’t doubt they’re there.

“You can’t even put a number on how many people attend, because there’s no gate (charge),” he said. “But when you see that number of people downtown for two or three days, you know it’s got to be having a positive impact on the economy.”

That’s why downtown businesses are taking steps to make the most of the crowds.

“Hopefully people will come down to see us, get in the air conditioning,” said Marilyn Plum, owner of the Corner Cafe at Matheny Motors at Third and Ann streets.

Last year, the restaurant’s entrance was blocked off during the Half Marathon, leaving the Cafe little reason to keep its normal Saturday hours of 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“This year, we’re not even going to open ’til 5 in the afternoon,” Plum said, noting they will be offering a limited menu.

Plum also plans to have an extra staff member on hand tonight, based on the extra business they’ve seen during the Point Park Concert Series.

“We just are packed,” she said. “It’s great for us.”

The Downtown Farmers’ Marketplace will have some vendors staying later Friday and Saturday, said Kim Gant, the city’s liaison to the market. The Bob Fusion Jazz Trio is slated to perform there today as part of the new Fridays at 5 event, which also features special meal offerings. It usually runs until 7 p.m., but the band may keep playing after that tonight, Gant said.

The Blennerhassett Hotel is usually pretty full this weekend, something general manager Cecil Childress attributes primarily to the Half Marathon. But Lewis noted that even if people come into town for Homecoming and stay with family or friends, they “are going out to dinner a lot of times; they’re shopping here,” Lewis said.

In addition to watching Homecoming activities, there is still time to participate by entering the Half Marathon and the Two-Mile Race at 8 a.m. Saturday.

People can register for either event from 2 to 9 p.m. today in the second floor lobby of the Parkersburg Municipal Building as race packets are distributed. People can also bring gently worn shoes of all shapes and sizes there for FaithLink to provide to senior citizens.

Art Smith, logistics director for the Half Marathon, said the forecast for Saturday morning “may very well be the best running weather we’ve ever had.” Temperatures won’t be approaching the day’s predicted high of 83 when the races start around 8 a.m., and there’s no precipitation expected.

“It’s a great opportunity to come out with your family and do the Two Mile,” Smith said. “You can run it; you can walk it. It’s a good opportunity to get a little exercise early.”

One of the main attractions for Homecoming is the entertainment, featuring country group Restless Heart on Friday, tribute artists Almost Queen on Saturday and classic rock band The Guess Who on Sunday.

Belpre resident Russ Adams won the Best Seat in the House drawing, giving him a pair of recliners from Value City Furniture that will be placed in front of the main Suddenlink Stage for all three concerts, Value City manager Tony Green said. Adams can take the chairs home after The Guess Who’s performance.

“The Value City Best Seat in the House contest is just another way to celebrate Parkersburg Homecoming,” said Chuck Lipps, chairman of Homecoming entertainment.

Passengers of the Easy Rider bus system will have to make adjustments for Homecoming on Saturday. Due to the races and parade (at noon), buses won’t begin operating until 2 p.m. Saturday.

“Easy Rider supports Homecoming and believes it to be a benefit to the entire community but finds it difficult to maintain reliable bus service durings the many celebrations that morning,” a release from the Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority said.

(City Editor Jess Mancini contributed to this story.)