Downtown experiences a paradigm shift

After reading the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Poll that claims West Virginians live in the most miserable state in the country, I have questions.

I wonder who these 1,200 West Virginians are. Do I know any of them? With 1.8 million people in West Virginia, chances are I don’t.

But I do know many people here. They are traditional, hard-working people who care about their families and their communities. They love and desire for their hometowns to prosper.

However, while they are committed to community, they sometimes can be a little biased about the past, and therefore, a little limited in seeing their community’s future if it is different from that.

If you’re new to a community, it may be easier to see what your town, your business or your organization can become because you’re not comparing it to the past.

In the hospitality industry, change is regularly forced on us. And when we discuss experience we ask a simple question: “Do I have 30 years of experience, or just two years of experience done 15 times?” There’s a big difference. We spend a lot of time and energy asking if what we did last year is good enough for this year. I regularly tell my culinary staff that they are as good as their last meal, and today is a new day.

We should be saying that to ourselves in every aspect of our lives; our businesses, our downtown, our organizations, our schools, our churches and our neighborhoods.

I don’t think that the past is unworthy, but I think that change is inevitable and leaning into change prepares us for new and exciting opportunities.

Often when I talk to friends and neighbors about downtown revitalization, I hear wonderful stories of the downtown from 50 or 100 years ago. We even have many wonderful Borelli photographs hanging in the Blennerhassett Hotel. By the way, I also have a photo of a Klu Klux Klan march in downtown Parkersburg that is in the corner floor of my office. It will never be hanging in public space.

But it makes no sense to try to recreate the downtown of the past. It can’t be done, and frankly, it wouldn’t work.

Several years ago the Blennerhassett Hotel cleverly renamed all of its meeting rooms after historic hotels that used to be in downtown Parkersburg. Shortly after we had placed beautiful name plaques on each, I was approached by an elderly Parkersburg native with a curious question. “Why did you name all your meeting rooms after old whore houses?”

Whoops! There’s a piece of history I was not aware of. Apparently, not all history and heritage is worth preserving or celebrating.

We must all have a renewed paradigm shift in how we approach our downtown. Only then can we build the community we desire for ourselves, our children and our neighbors. I hope we are more romantic about our future than we are about our past.

Come see me. I’ll be in the lounge.

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Cecil Childress is General Manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and Chairman of Downtown PKB.