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West Virginia Parkways Authority Looks at Possible Hotel
Development Next to Tamarack Conference Center

By Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 6, 2009--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The development of 60 acres of land next to Tamarack could provide enough revenue to finally make the Beckley arts and crafts complex self-sufficient, the general manager of the West Virginia Parkways Authority said Monday.

"We're looking at ways to increase visitors and traffic, to increase the revenue stream to the level of at least break-even," Greg Barr said.

Ideally, that would include leasing property for construction of a hotel next to Tamarack's 6-year-old conference center.

"We're looking at having a hotel close enough to use the conference center as its conference facility," Barr said. "Tamarack would get all the conference business from the hotel, as well as an increase in retail customers."

The Public Resources Advisory Group, the financial consulting firm that has been under contract to the Manchin administration since 2005, raised several possible uses for the acreage just behind Tamarack.

Besides a hotel, other possibilities raised by PRAG include retail shopping space, offices, and apartments or condominiums.

Leasing the property could be the final step toward Gov. Joe Manchin's mandate to divest the state Parkways Authority of all economic development and tourism functions.

Earlier this year, the authority paid off $6.2 million in bonds outstanding from the construction of the $16 million Tamarack complex, which opened in 1998.

Even with the bonds retired, Parkways spends $1.2 million to $1.4 million a year to subsidize Tamarack operations -- still short of the break-even level needed to in order to transfer management of the complex to the Department of Commerce.

Parkways has published pre-solicitation notices, asking developers with possible interest in the Tamarack property to contact the authority, Barr said.

To date, Parkways has received about a dozen inquiries from interested parties, who will be notified when the authority puts out a formal request for proposals to develop the acreage -- with the bid requests likely to go out later this fall, he said.

Barr said the authority is looking at leasing the property to developers, and is not planning to sell any property.

He said PRAG has advised that this is a good time to market the property, even with the current downturn in the economy.

"What they say is, developers aren't looking at what's happening now. They're looking three to five years down the road," he said.

Barr said PRAG consultants are encouraged that development of a 10,600-acre Boy Scouts high-adventure base and potential national Jamboree site in nearby Fayette County could spike demand for hotel rooms in the area, to accommodate parents and families of the estimated 50,000 Scouts visiting the complex each year.

"We don't want to miss out on an opportunity," he said.


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