LAVALETTE — Wayne County officials are working at the state and local levels to revitalize an economic development opportunity that has been talked about and in the works since the 1970s but has yet to come to fruition, a project that would serve to kick-start a mostly untapped tourism industry in the area.
The Wayne County Economic Development Authority and the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research hosted a public meeting Tuesday at Creekside Golf Course to discuss the history of and how to move forward with the Beech Fork Lodge and Conference Center project, which was first proposed when a study was conducted for a 117-unit lodge in 1977, shortly after the Beech Fork Lake Region was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Officials said because Wayne County does not have any hotels other than small, family-owned motels, potential tourists are not attracted to the area’s offerings, which, in addition to Beech Fork State Park, include East Lynn Lake, Cabwaylingo State Forest and the Rustic Ravines in Genoa.
“The citizens deserve this,” said state Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. “This is one that I hear about all the time. ... This is a time where we have the chance to do it, and we have control of this, because if we come up with the right scenario for a public-private partnership, it’s a slam dunk.”
Progress on the project has crept along over a span of nearly 40 years:
- Economic studies were conducted in 1981, 1991 and 1995 by several organizations.
- Special revenue of $5.5 million was allocated to the project in 2008.
- Architects and engineers were commissioned by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to develop a concept in 2011.
- And a bill partially sponsored by Plymale and signed by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2012 authorized $52.5 million in bonds for the project and another like it at Cacapon Resort State Park.
But that progress came to a halt in 2015 when Tomblin’s chief of staff penned a letter to legislators, who had asked for an update on the project, stating the bonds that were supposed to fund the lodge would not be issued.
In March, House Bill 3140 was passed with an amendment in the Senate to complete a feasibility study for the project. The bill states that two public hearings, not including Tuesday’s meeting, are required to take place before Oct. 1 of this year. The first is to seek input regarding public-private partnership and financing options for the construction of a lodge. The second will allow for public comment on the feasibility study.
The completed study is due by Dec. 1. Plymale said Tuesday this date was chosen to make sure the work is completed before the 2020 legislative session.
Chris Chiles, executive director of KYOVA Interstate Planning Commission, said the lodge would open up the opportunity to market the length of W.Va. Route 152 as an “Appalachian-themed tourism corridor,” with a welcome center at the 5th Street exit (Exit 8) of Interstate 64, serving as the gateway.
Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.