PARKERSBURG - Looking back and ahead, 2013 was a positive year for the city of Parkersburg and Mayor Bob Newell expects that to continue in 2014.
Newell cited the opening of several new businesses in the city and the announcement of the proposed cracker plant in Wood County, which will have a large impact on Parkersburg and the entire region.
In November, state and local officials announced that Wood County was chosen as the site for a possible new petrochemical complex, or ethane cracker plant, to be built by the Brazilian-based company Odebrecht on the site of the SABIC plant at Washington Bottom.
Newell said he was especially excited this year about the announcement of plans to renovate the long-unused Uptowner Inn into an extended-stay hotel and the current construction by MPH Hotels of a new 100-unit hotel overlooking the Traffic Circle.
Development like the hotels and many of the other new businesses can be traced to the ongoing Marcellus Shale natural gas development occurring throughout the region, especially in connection with the cracker plant announcement, he said.
"We had already had a lot of interest, with the drilling and Marcellus Shale activity, but that has escalated everything," Newell said.
"We've had several calls for property since then, and buildings. I think in this coming year, you will see a lot of empty buildings filling up. I wouldn't call it a big rush, but there is extraordinary interest in property right now," he said.
Looking into the new year, Newell said the city of Parkersburg will be looking at ways to streamline the city's processes for handling issues like permits, licenses and similar types of activities and paperwork through the city development department.
"It's pretty simple anyhow, but we want to make it even simpler," he said.
Several years ago, the city of Parkersburg produced a study aimed at providing information about what Parkersburg has to offer to businesses and industries considering coming to West Virginia. Newell said he wants to have that study updated and sent out again, to let recipients know how much has changed and what more there is to offer locally, hopefully putting Parkersburg back on more radars for the future.
Newell said the city of Parkersburg may also be making a final decision in the coming year on the feasibility of a professional baseball team coming to the area. A draft report in late December indicated positive interest in such development and a second phase will look more closely at possible sites, facilities, support, development and other issues, he said.
In another area of interest, Newell also cited the continued growth of interest and usage for the Downtown Farmers' Market in 2013. The end of this year's season saw the change in its location from Bicentennial Park to its new location at 113 Ann St., near the floodwall and Point Park.
A monthly winter market program is giving visitors a chance to preview the new location before the farmers'' market program returns in the spring.
"That was an exciting project," he said.
Newell also cited the extensive renovations and improvements made by the car dealerships along Seventh Street over the past year or two, which he said totally transformed the look of Seventh Street in that area.
He is also seeing forward to the completion of the Little Kanawha Connector occurring in 2014 and wants to see continued discussion on a proposal to potentially create a permanent river port in Parkersburg along Depot Street on the Little Kanawha River.
The property is about 300 yards from the Ohio River, is within sight of a CSX railyard and is only blocks from Corridor D and Interstate 77.
The city has been working with the West Virginia Department of Transportation's Public Port Authority on the proposal.
"I think it's going to be a major year in economic development in the city and in the surrounding area," he said.