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Richwood redevelopment project moving forward at its own pace

MORGANTOWN — Standing on the back deck at 318 Richwood Ave., it’s hard not to be taken in by the view.

Members of the Monongalia County Commission were on that deck earlier this week, but their visit was less about the view, and more about the vision.

The red brick building is the former home of Richwood Grill. It’s also one of 53 structures spread across 10 acres of property purchased for $11.8 from the Giuliani family by the Monongalia County Development Authority in late 2020.

The ability to purchase all those parcels and aging rental properties on the doorstep of downtown Morgantown represented an opportunity stakeholders like MCDA, the city of Morgantown, the Monongalia County Commission and WVU were quick to seize.

At the time of the initial announcement it was explained the planning and redevelopment process was anticipated to take two to three years.

Now nearly two years in, the plan remains the same, but the timeline may need some adjustment.

MCDA is part of the Morgantown Area Partnership, for which Erik Carlson serves as vice president.

Carlson said the plan is to begin the planned unit development process with the city in the next 30-60 days. The vast majority of the redevelopment area falls within the city’s Willey, Spruce, Brockway TIF District, which was created in 2014.

“The first phase would be to possibly put townhomes over here where you see these two red roofs and then rounding the corner over there,” Carlson said, gesturing to neighboring rooftops visible from the deck at 318 Richwood. “Then looking at commercial space, possibly in this building, possibly in a new building or two that would be built further down the hill.”

Carlson explained that it’s not known what structures, if any, will be kept or if everything will be razed ahead of the redevelopment.

“At the very least we want to preserve the walls along Richwood that were built by the WPA (Work Progress Administration) back during the Depression,” he said. “That’s something that has historical significance.”

In the meantime, MCDA is working with Pearand Corp. to handle property management and landlord duties for a small percentage of the properties that are still being rented.

“We don’t know at this point,” Carlson said when asked if this would be the last time any of these properties are rented. “If it’s looking like we won’t be moving on construction by the end of the following school year, we will likely rent what we can again.”

Looking forward, improving the connectivity of the area is a priority of the redevelopment. Carlson said new connections to Whitmore Park and the city’s downtown will be established, as well as other pedestrian considerations.

Part of that connectivity will also build off a total realignment of the intersection of Willey Street and Richwood Avenue. That project has been given a top-priority status by the Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“We’re working with the MMPO, which is working with DOH, to look at opportunities for Snider Street,” Carlson said. “So hopefully in the mid-to-long term, as the Willey Street redo gets done, that will create more of a straight pathway in and out of downtown.”

For its end of the redevelopment project, Morgantown City Council approved $180,000 and the Monongalia County Commission put up $90,000 to help carry the interest on the MCDA loan over three years.

Commissioner Sean Sikora said it’s easy to get excited about a big announcement, but there’s a lot of work that has to take place behind the scenes.

“We didn’t really get as far as we thought we were going to get. Three years, we thought we were going to have buildings torn down and you’d really see what we’re doing here, but, again, we’re getting close to a lot of those discussions,” he said.

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