First of all, I am not running for office. I am just a small business guy that has grown up in the area, and have a few ideas to share. I have owned and operated a small creative firm for nearly 20 years here in Charleston and my work and service have taken me all over the world. I am a South Charleston boy at heart, the city line went right through my childhood home. I ate dinner in Charleston and slept in South Charleston. I remember riding on the back of my dad’s dirt bike down I64…when it was just dirt. I spent years on the cliff at Fort Hill watching the city grow. I saw the interstate built, the Mall, the Marriott, Laidley Tower, the initial Civic Center renovation—I have seen lots of change.
I am a man who falls way short, but have a love for God, my country, and my family that motivates me to keep going. I love what I do and I love our city. I have traveled to just about every major city in the United States, most of our 50 states, and have visited more than 20 different countries. I am here to tell you, we have something special. We have something beautiful, and we have something worth fighting for. I know we have some exciting options running for office, and I know several of them fairly well, and have heard good things about the others. I would encourage you to get to know (Amy Goodwin, Andy Backus, Andy Richardson, and J.B. Akers) these guys and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring. We have a lot riding on our future, and one of these guys (or gals) will be leading us in the not too distant future.
My vision is to take up the spikes in our parks so people can sit down. To add picnic tables back, and make better use of our transportation system and our state’s tourist attractions. Let me start with a little background…We are 45 minutes from some of the world’s best whitewater rafting! However, we get in a car, drive 45 minutes and check in at an outfitter, hangout for 30 minutes and look at t-shirts and trinkets for sale…get a 30 minute welcome and safety meeting, then get wetsuits, helmets, etc., take another 20 minutes to board the bus and another 30 minutes to the launch location, 30 minutes to unload the boat and gear, and then we get on our merry way. So, it will be between 3 and 4 hours before we ever hit the attraction. I could share similar parallels about bass fishing, skiing and mountain biking as well. Look at what Myrtle Beach does with their helicopter tours…they have dozens of helicopters taking people up for $20 a pop. Is there a way for us to start thinking about this type of transportation for special activities like, fly-fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, etc.? I don’t know…I am just trying to think a little differently. We have to think differently, or we will keep getting the same result. We need to compete! We need to have something that people will consider as a destination worthy of spending their hard-earned dollars.
Vision (Long Term)
I want to develop our Town Center, and surrounding vacant buildings that have good proximity to the transit mall as “The Hub” to the great outdoors. I want to make our great outdoors accessible to everyone. You have heard stories of folks taking a helicopter to the top of a mountain and skiing for hours, right? How many people can afford that…not many. But what if we create that type of adventure and access for more people. We are within 4 hours of half the population of the U.S. People won’t need to go to Colorado for high adventure…they can come to “The Hub” in Charleston, West Virginia and experience “Real Adventure” (and at a reasonable price). We can invite outdoor rec companies to open kiosks or outposts here in Charleston, where we can access more people, process more people, and transport more people…AND make it easier to access what West Virginia has to offer. Picture this—your 15 year son, and 4 of his buddies ask to go to WinterPlace for a day of skiing. They show up on Saturday morning at the Town Center, buy their lift ticket and rent their skis, grab a biscuit for the trip, and then get dropped off at the lift ready to ski by 9:00am. It is a 1 hour bus ride that departs the transit mall at 8:00am, and brings folks back by 7:00pm. We could do this multiple days per week. Now picture this—that 3-4 hour ordeal I mentioned about whitewater rafting travel and prep. It becomes more direct as well. Want to go duck hunting,deer hunting or rock climbing? Go to “The Hub” and get setup with an outfitter, and go make a day of it (or do an overnight!) with a licensed guide who can provide local insights and make the trip all the more productive. These trips might go out in a fleet of Land Rovers, Jeeps, or Toyotas (or maybe launch from a helopad on top of the mall parking lot), and would help commercialize the great culture of hunting and fishing that we as West Virginians love so dearly. I am not suggesting we make West Virginia into an outdoor Disney experience (and then again, maybe I am), but why not utilize some new ideas and processes to bring happiness to others by building relationships, jobs and experiences through Charleston and the infrastructure we have to promote the great outdoors. We have the transit mall, we have the airport, we have the river, we have the mall, we have the interstates! Come on people let’s get this road on the show! I’m tired of being the last state! I don’t want people talking about our poor coal situation and our drug epidemic. I want them to come and see our great city and our great state…and talk about what an awesome time they had! If we are going to do tourism, we need to do it better! Everyone has mountian biking, forests, and trails…we need to ratchet it up a few notches and compete on an all new level. We could have an urban climbing school in the mall, we could have an outfitter that features a kayak / water safety training facility in one of these big vacant stores. Maybe if we did something like this we could attract someone like L.L. Bean or REI to be one of our new cornerstone stores.
(Thoughts from my daughter Ella)
So I was talking with my daughter about these ideas and she shared some pretty cool ideas of her own. Why not create an arts incubator where we could have a dance studio, and art studio, a place to take music lessons, etc. I really like the diverse use idea, because parents that are dropping off at violin lessons or dance lessons, could go Christmas shopping or meet up for a dinner date with their spouse. This made me think a little further to consider indoor sports training kiosks. We could have judo or karate, an indoor batting cage, a rock climbing center, one on one and group soccer skills—I think the sky is the limit!
Vision (Short Term)
I could go on and on about this…but I will leave that to you and the pros. But speaking of our Town Center Mall, we need to make something happen in the short term, or we are going to have even bigger problems just ahead. As I sat at the bar at Chili’s for lunch this week, the bartender was talking about how big the night before was when Chris Stapleton performed at the Civic Center. He said it was huge! But when there isn’t anything going on…it is dead. We need to get something “going on!” The city has done a great job with Festivall and the Live on the Levee series during the summer. We need to take Live on the Levee indoors to the mall (asap). We need music, some beer vendors…and really not much more—because the mall is set up with retail and food that we normally have to import to the levee location. I believe people would show up in droves at the mall for “Live at the Levee-style” entertainment. We might couple this special night each week in the winter and spring with FREE parking (forgive me father for I have sinned). Let’s make it easy for people to have fun, shop, eat, and spend money! Let’s just try a little bit to encourage people to come out.
(So, I want to take a time out here and say that I am not throwing any stones. I think the city has done an awesome job on enhancing the culture in Charleston. I love it! I just want to throw out some ideas to bring jobs and dollars here. We could have the best bike paths, and the best art walk in the country, but if we don’t have people or jobs here, we will be in trouble.)
Let’s get moving! I encourage you to add your thoughts and comments. Talk to your friends, neighbors and representatives…let’s get some dialogue going! If you ever want to bounce some ideas off me, stop by and see me or just give me a call. Let’s go Charleston!
Peace. & Thanks!