Mason County Memories… Thirty-two years of success

By Chris Rizer - Special to the Register

$85,430,000,000 ($85.43 billion) invested in historic downtowns… 295,348 historic buildings renovated… 150,079 new businesses… And 672,333 new jobs… That is the impact of the Main Street Approach since 1980. Hundreds of downtowns brought back from the brink, including our own.

By 1980, Point Pleasant’s historic downtown was dying a slow death. The local mom-and-pop businesses were being slaughtered by the combined collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967, bypassing of downtown in 1969, closure of the Point Pleasant stockyards, growth of big-box retailers, gradual shift towards uptown and the area around Pleasant Valley Hospital, national recession, and international economic crisis. Barring a major change, the city’s downtown was doomed.

Rather than accept the inevitable, several of the city’s leaders came together and decided to do something about it. Their first step was to have the downtown area listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which went so far as to note the “community’s increasing awareness of the historic built environment as Point Pleasant begins to plan for a serious restoration effort,” an unusual reference to modern events in what should be a mostly architectural and historical record. In other words, the city was almost begging the State Historic Preservation Office and Keeper of the Register to approve the nomination, knowing that it was a practical prerequisite of their ultimate plan.

After it was approved and signed in July 1985, plans for the next step were kicked into high gear. The City established a Historic Landmark Commission and design guidelines to protect the historic downtown, and work began on an application to join the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s growing National Main Street Center.

It took two applications, and a midnight rush to wrap up the paperwork, but in 1988, Main Street Point Pleasant became one of the oldest ‘Main Street’ programs in West Virginia.

They began 1989 with an ambitious plan, but one that they were determined to see finished. And though there were doubters thirty years ago, no one can deny that they carried out their plan and built the foundation for the growth Point Pleasant sees today.

Their largest project, one that finally totaled nearly $7,000,000, was the Point Pleasant Riverfront Park & Amphitheatre. This mile-long redevelopment project put Point Pleasant on-par with Wheeling and Huntington as far as riverfront parks go and provided an inviting and much-needed space for visiting riverboats, privately owned boats, pageants and performances, festivals, and recreation. The $1,000,000 addition of nearly 400 yards of impressive historic murals, painted by internationally-recognized muralist Bob Dafford, and several statues of historic figures, sculpted by Mason County’s own Bob Roach, to the riverfront park adds to the tourist experience and can serve as a tool for education and marketing.

Their second largest project, not the most expensive but perhaps the most important, is the beautification of downtown. Speaking personally, downtown Point Pleasant twenty years ago was run down, shabby, not the kind of place tourists would want to visit or locals shop and get lunch. Main Street Point Pleasant’s work completely changed that.

They led the efforts to have the power lines re-aligned, sidewalks widened, and streets paved; installed the faux-historic street lamps and benches; planted the trees and partnered with various groups to decorate Main Street; worked with the local banks to establish a low-interest loan program and restore the facades of the many historic buildings; procured a grant to have awnings installed on many of the businesses; re-bricked Hartley Square and installed the town clock; and last but certainly not least, commissioned and installed the world-famous Mothman Statue.

Main Street has also organized and led several projects that grew and were spun-off into separate organizations. Foremost among these are the Point Pleasant River Museum and the improvements at Fort Randolph that made it into a working fort and tourist attraction, both of which began as Main Street committees.

Now, without that investment in downtown, who would have wanted to open a business on Main Street? I can tell you, absolutely nobody. In the 1990s, more than half of downtown was empty. Today, after cleaning up downtown, building the riverfront park, and constantly marketing Point Pleasant, all but five storefronts are filled (or about to be filled, as a few are being renovated) and busy.

To sum everything up, Main Street Point Pleasant has brought in and invested nearly $10,000,000 in our historic downtown, brought it back from the brink, and set the foundation for the growth we’re seeing today. But, that doesn’t mean everything is finished or there’s nothing else to do. As they say, there is always room for improvement, and there are dozens of good ideas and projects out there, some already started and some still only vague daydreams.

Next week, I’ll write a bit about what Main Street plans to do next.

By Chris Rizer

Special to the Register

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]