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Riverfront tops wish list

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston residents really want mixed-use development along the riverfront, adaptive reuse of vacant and underused building, and a network of bike trails across the city.

Then again, the consultants who are writing new downtown development and citywide comprehensive plans for the city of Charleston already knew that. They spent months meeting with residents, business people and government leaders, collecting data for those plans.

The planners -- some from MKSK, some from LSL Planning Inc. -- presented their initial findings and sketched out some ideas for reshaping the city at an open house last week at the Culture Center. The 100 to 125 people who attended were invited to cast ballots, choosing up to 10 of their high priority projects among a list of 34.

MKSK is an urban design, landscape architecture and entertainment design firm, while LSL Planning is a Michigan consulting firm.     

Two projects rose to the top out with more than 60 votes each and a third -- bike trails -- stood out with 49 votes. Six projects got between 30 and 36 votes; four got about two dozen. A total of 687 votes were cast.

Number one was the riverfront, which received 63 votes: "Encourage mixed-use riverfront development including living, shopping, dining, entertainment and recreation opportunities that connect to the river."

The runner-up, with 61 votes: "Adopt reuse strategies for vacant and underutilized properties and buildings."

Craig Gossman, the lead planning consultant from MKSK, said the voting results didn't surprise him.

"The riverfront -- you would expect the riverfront to get votes because people think, even with the improvements so far, there's so much more people could do with livability along the riverfront," Gossman said Monday.

"From Day One there's been a conversation about getting Charleston more bicycle friendly.

"I was really pleased with the turnout," Gossman said. "It was a meeting intended to bring some ideas out of all the stakeholder meetings, the planning meetings, the technical meetings, the meetings with city officials."

The proposals aren't yet carved in stone, he said. "We tried to use sample projects, not to drill down to specific projects. You could quite frankly choose other sites but we like the idea.

"I was really impressed: There is a young voice in Charleston that loves Charleston, loves the setting. They say the same thing in a number of ways. They've been off to college, seen other things, and come home. They're starved for things to make Charleston even better."

As part of their research, the consultants studied cities of similar size to see how they're dealing with the same issues.

"Cities today are looking at the crystal ball to see how to retain young people, so they don't move off to other locations that offer more," Gossman said.

"For every young person I talk to there's five or six more that says Charleston is a place they'd like to move back to." Those are the easy ones, he said. "The difficult thing is to attract people that don't have an affinity to Charleston."

Other priority projects -- those with high vote totals -- include better downtown parking; better pedestrian connections downtown; building and maintaining parks and recreational facilities; more housing and mixed-use development downtown; and promoting the city as a cultural and entertainment destination.

The consultants now plan to organize their materials and draft ideas for strategic action for the steering committee and executive committee to review, Gossman said.

"We're about halfway through the process. More writing ... this wiIl be more of a document than a presentation. I think we'll try to get down there next month or early November."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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