PRINCETON — Mercer County’s quest for a convention center is receiving a boost from the federal government.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. announced a $50,000 grant Tuesday going to the County Commission to be used to pay for the ongoing feasibility study for the center.
Both are members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the money is part of $1.3 million USDA Rural Development program for West Virginia.
“In order to spur economic development in West Virginia, resources must be made available so that our communities, local businesses, and entrepreneurs can make necessary improvements, increase operations, and save jobs,” Capito said. “Investments like these USDA grants will help do just that. West Virginians are incredibly diligent and hardworking, and these projects announced today will give people across our state the opportunity they need to be successful, while helping to increase economic stability in their communities.”
“Boosting economic development through investments is vital to our economies and communities,” Manchin said in the announcement. “This investment from USDA is welcome news for the Mountain State and will support rural businesses while also creating and retaining good-paying jobs across the state. Our rural communities need and deserve new opportunities, and I will continue to fight for funding to spur local and regional economies through economic development,”
The feasibility study started earlier this year by Downstream Strategies, a West Virginia-based consulting firm that is also exploring related attractions that could be part of the project.
A convention center, which has been discussed in the county for many years, would host special events and large gatherings.
Opportunities being considered in the study include everything from an indoor waterpark resort to an outdoor-themed luxury hotel and retail center. The goal is to explore developments that draw on the county’s strengths, Joey James, principal of Downstream Strategies, said when the study started.
The consulting firm will examine local and regional market opportunities that can be paired with convention center development and identify ways to position Mercer County to maximize its capture of the economic benefits from the growing tourism industry, James said. Where a convention center could be located also is a part of this study, although the Interstate 77 corridor is generally considered to be the preferred location for such a development.
“Any area in Mercer County is fine by us,” County Commission Bill Archer said at that time. “We targeted primarily Exits 1, 9, 14 and 20 as potential sites; but, of course, up on top of the mountain there Mercer County goes all the way up to Flat Top, so that’s important for us, too."
The primary purpose of the feasibility study is to provide the county with the data and evidence needed to attract and encourage action by private developers on the project.