As the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce considers ways to manage growth through closer collaboration, Morgantown’s sister cities handle the challenges and opportunities of growth differently.
Granville: A Remarkable Transition
Everything changed for Granville when the first shops started opening at University Town Centre in 2005.
“Before the Town Centre began to develop, we had one police officer and one cruiser,” says Patricia Lewis. She’s been mayor of the town of about 800 since 1991, more than a quarter-century. “We had two town workers and one town truck, and basically the recorder and I took care of everything in the office because there was no office staff. That was all we could afford.”
Yet Lewis and the Granville Town Council had the confidence to commit to road maintenance, fire protection, and 24-hour police protection at the shopping center that could and eventually would become very large. “The nice thing for Granville was that the Town Centre developed in phases,” she says. “So as it grew and the businesses opened, the money started to come in from business and occupation taxes, and we were able to build up slowly. We kind of grew with them.”
Today, Granville has a staff of five in administration. The town employs 13 police officers and eight in the street department plus a mechanic and a maintenance worker. It also has seven firefighters in an innovative combination volunteer and paid fire department, with a plan to expand to 10 and to be available around the clock.
Granville’s permanent population is about 800, but Lewis notes that the opening of the apartments at The Domain at Town Centre a few years ago doubled that with the addition of about the same number of transient residents.
After more than a decade of growth, University Town Centre is nearly built out. The development saw the opening in 2017 of regional teppanyaki chain Fusion Japanese Steakhouse plus Panda Express, three Freedom automotive dealerships, and several other businesses. Lewis expects a couple new restaurants and a business complex to open in 2018, but not a lot more beyond that. “Now it’s just business as usual every day,” she says. “Our long-term goal is to fulfill our obligation to the Town Centre by providing 24-hour services.”
Although the new revenues and new responsibilities changed the administration of the town of Granville dramatically, things are a lot like they’ve always been along old Granville’s Main Street, down by the river. “We’ve added a little park area beside Town Hall, and we’re going to move our veterans’ memorial here,” Lewis says of recent changes. “All of our sidewalks were replaced through grant money a few years back. And we put up banners and those kind of things to make Main Street look nicer.”
Lewis expresses appreciation for longtime Granville businesses that supported the town’s operation when it didn’t always have the cash flow to pay on time. “When we were down and out and had no money, we never went without fuel, because Dulaney Oil took care of us,” she says. “We never went without storm or sewer pipe because Koval helped us out. We paid them eventually, but we had to make payments. And I can’t say enough about what City Crane has done for the town—they helped us at the ballpark, helped us repair equipment back when we could only pay a few dollars a month. Those businesses have treated Granville so well. They are Granville.”
One important thing has changed for residents. “We are an older and lower-income community. Our residents never would have dreamed that they would have 24-hour police protection—they can call and somebody’s there in just a minute, now. And they have the advantage of the excellent new equipment and all of the street department workers, so they don’t have to wait to have their streets plowed when the weather is bad,” says Lewis, a small-town mayor who’s overseen a remarkable transition. “That is my pride, that we’re able to give those services to our residents.”
Koval Building and Plumbing Company
Koval Building and Plumbing Company started out in Granville in 1963. The founder, John Koval Sr., passed management of the company to sons John Jr. and Steve, and they expanded it to three additional locations: one in Morgantown and two in Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
The original shop on Main Street in Granville remains in operation and mainly carries plumbing supplies and materials like culvert and sewer pipe. Bob Moore manages that store. He’s been with the company for 30 years. Its market reach, he says, is “semi-amazing.” “I have customers from Pittsburgh, we have customers from Maryland, we have customers that order from us in Virginia, all over Pennsylvania, Ohio—it’s far-reaching.”
He attributes that to relationships.
The construction at University Town Centre has been a boon, Moore says. “We haven’t gotten all of the business, but it has definitely helped our business.”
Koval supports town initiatives, most recently the Halloween parade, and has also supported baseball teams over the years. “I do enjoy seeing how active the ballfields are and the growth that has happened out there,” Moore says. “The town improves it every year.”
He commends Granville’s leadership. “There’s always so much negative publicity for political officials, town officials,” he says. “But I think Granville does a good job of keeping on the straight and narrow. And the influx of businesses that have come here up at the Town Centre has not necessarily affected the way they run things. I feel very confident in the leadership of Granville.”
Star City: New Direction
Herman Reid came to the mayorship of Star City after a 40-year career as a police officer. “We were very much in the red,” Reid says of the state of his native town when he was first elected in 2015. “In my opinion, things weren’t organized.”
Once home to as many as 13 glass factories, Star City suffered from the decline of the glass industry and from the loss of coal mining across the region. But Reid sees things looking up for the town of 1,800. He points to the new Tuscan Sun Spa & Salon building on Boyers Avenue, which opened in 2017, as just one bright spot. A couple new dental offices and several other businesses have opened, too.
He also names a number of very large projects. Aldi is building its second grocery store in the area, opening very soon behind Golden Corral and CVS. The St. Mary Roman Catholic Church on University Avenue is undergoing a $3 million update and expansion. And the Morgantown Utility Board is spending more than $100 million to upgrade the 1965 sewage treatment plant to a state-of-the-art facility. “Luckily, that’s in Star City, so we get 2 percent of that,” Reid says. “We lost 84 Lumber and MUB bought that property up, but hopefully we’ll get another lumber yard back in.”
Star City has some of the best river and rail-trail access around, and more is coming. Town Council voted in 2015 to allow the installation of a canoe and kayak launch at the end of Van Voorhis; Mon River Trails Conservancy and Morgantown Area Paddlers opened that in 2016 along with restrooms and 30 parking spots, and it’s been very popular, Reid says. He hopes to add a similar launch facility at Edith Barill Riverfront Park, near Terra Cafe, in the spring of 2018. “Our small dock needs replaced, and I’d like to put a bigger dock in and put a kayak–canoe ramp in with that. Morgantown is putting one in and Point Marion’s going to do it, so paddlers will be able to go four miles, 10 miles. That’s a good use of the river.”
The town has also received a grant to construct a spur off the Caperton Trail that will improve connectivity between road and trail. “It’s going to go underneath the Star City bridge so people don’t have to cross Monongahela Boulevard there,” Reid says. “We’ll have it come underneath the bridge and up beside CVS, and Morgantown is supposed to put a bike path in on that southbound side of the boulevard all the way into town. People could park at the Coliseum, grab their bikes, and ride down to Star City and get on the trail. It’ll be a nice improvement.” He hopes that will be done in 2018.
Meanwhile, the town is making improvements to the Star City municipal building on Broadway. “The Morgantown Public Library is thinking about putting a library upstairs,” he says. “We’re also working on putting a senior center up there, and I’ve talked to a lady about a wellness center. I think that would be great for Star City—the older generation, including me, could go there, get their blood pressure checked, get on the treadmill, stuff like that.”
Being mayor is both challenging and rewarding for Reid. “I’m one of those guys that believes in getting it done yesterday, and there’s a lot of red tape for getting things done—things don’t move as quick
as I’d like to see them move,” he says. “But I thoroughly enjoy it. There are a couple of squeaky wheels, but 97 percent of the people are pretty satisfied with what I’m getting done with the council, and we’re definitely moving in the right direction. Star City’s just a great little town.”
Star City businessman Dominick Claudio has a vision for his town. The fourth-generation native’s most visible enterprise might be his first, Unique Consignment, which he started in 2012 to specialize in gently used furniture and home goods. “It’s grown to where we have a really good Facebook following and we ship, not huge furniture items, but small tchotchkes and trinkets that people from outside West Virginia are interested in. It’s become a destination.”
Claudio has since created a cluster of enterprises: Claudio & Company accounting firm, for example, and Appalachian Oral Surgery Center, of which he is part-owner. To lift the look of Star City, his Claudio Enterprises has bought and redeveloped properties on University Avenue to house his businesses and to lease to others. It also refurbishes old company houses on Herman Avenue that used to be called brick row, and doesn’t rent them but sells in order to anchor the street with residents who have a stake.
“My goal is to give Star City a village feel—give it some character again so it’s not just a pass-through for Morgantown,” he says. “With its proximity to Suncrest, it can be like an arts district, a nice walkable community, with small businesses and little cafés.”
Claudio also serves on Star City Town Council. “I’m trying to get crosswalks on University Avenue, working with the state Division of Highways,” he says. “We have an identity issue because the state calls it a highway, but this is our downtown district. I think they should let us have that.”
Westover: Annexation Continues
When shopping developments locate just outside a town’s borders, the town suffers. Residents often abandon Main Street shops, and the town loses out on tax revenues—yet it still has to maintain streets, sidewalks, and services.
Westover native C. David Johnson saw that happen to his native town from the time Ohio-based developer Glimcher Realty Trust opened the Morgantown Mall in 1990. When he became mayor in 2008, he proposed to annex the mall, collect the business and occupation and property taxes, and in return provide services like law enforcement. But Glimcher liked its spot outside town and declined the offer. The dispute that followed was finally resolved in Westover’s favor in 2017 in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
“That’s the relief of reliefs, there. It was a long hard battle—we fought that for years. I was very confident in it,” Johnson says. “It’s a big boost for our revenue and it should have been that way all along.”
Meanwhile, Johnson had worked out annexation of The Gateway earlier in 2017. Developer Cliff Sutherland saw the appeal. An in-city location assures potential retail and commercial occupants that services will be kept up, and at a reasonable cost, he acknowledged at the time. He also valued the benefit for Westover. “It’s a good thing to help Westover do things for their community that they couldn’t have done without that revenue source.”
Shopping center revenues have made all the difference for Westover, increasing the city’s budget from $2 million when Johnson came on as mayor in 2008 to over $4 million in fiscal 2017. He has also worked to bring in grant and bond funding, and much of it goes to long-overdue recreation and beautification improvements. The city of 4,250 takes pride in its Westover City Park, for example, and a levy approved by county voters in May 2016 is allowing the city to make major upgrades. “Those two fields are like the elevation of the Dead Sea. There’s a confluence of water from different directions, and we would always get flooding in there,” Johnson says. “Now we’ve got the piping in that needed to be done and we’re not having problems there anymore.” The city’s getting ready to tear down a pavilion that had fallen into disuse, and then it’s going to expand one of the fields and use the area where the pavilion is for needed parking.
Westover also roofed its two bocce ball courts. “They play in bad weather now and in most of the cities where they play in the leagues, most of them have roofs,” Johnson says. And the city got approval in October to proceed with grant-funded construction of a walking trail in the park that’s been several years in the planning.
A third phase of grant-funded work took care of sidewalks on both sides of Dunkard Avenue to Granville this year, and the city continued its commitment to annual street work with $100,000 worth of paving.
Annexation may not be over. Johnson has his eye now on Mon-View’s WestRidge Business + Retail Park, the massive new development that’s going in on the west side of Interstate 79 between exits 153 and 155. “We’ve talked to the developers, and we’ll talk again in December,” Johnson says. “That’s nearly 1,000 acres there. If we get into it and it works for both the developer and the city, we’ll go forward. Hopefully we’ll come to agreement on the terms.”
He’s proud of what the city has accomplished in his decade as mayor. “Westover is the City on the Rise. A good place to come and operate a business, a good place to live,” he says. “We’ve got police officers who care about their jobs, team players everywhere, a good crew—we’re in probably the best shape the city’s ever been in since it was incorporated.”
Colasante’s Ristorante and Pub
Steve Colasante opened Westover Pizza in 1969. Two decades later, the family remodeled and added a full bar. Homemade sauces and pizza dough made the re-named Colasante’s a local institution.
So when Colasante’s burned in April 2016, people helped. “So many volunteers came down,” says Anthony Colasante, co-owner with father Steve and brother Nick. “They bought plywood at Lowe’s to board up the windows and wouldn’t let us pay. It’s incredible, the people who called and asked what we needed.”
After the investigation was over—it was determined to be an electrical fire—the family applied its 47 years’ experience to designing a new restaurant. “We read and went to restaurant shows,” Colasante says. “We made some of our product at test kitchens to make sure it would cook the same with modern technology.” They decorated the new place with WVU and Roberto Clemente memorabilia salvaged from the original restaurant and had an artist paint a mural of the old place and its familiar, steep green roof.
The Labor Day 2017 soft opening didn’t stay “soft” for long. “Word got out, and there were lines out the door for a solid week. It was overwhelming,” Colasante says. The new place comes just in time to serve a larger clientele—the new Exit 153 on the interstate draws Morgantown drivers through Westover, and some stop in at the brand new restaurant.
“I grew up in Westover. Our mayor is doing a fantastic job,” Colasante says. “We’re just happy to be open now, and we’re looking forward to meeting new customers.”