Joe F. Smith, the former mayor of Charleston who helped oversee the development of Charleston Town Center mall and a former state lawmaker, has died at the age of 94.
Smith was mayor from 1980 to 1983 and took office after serving as a city councilman and city treasurer. He was also a delegate from 1997 to 2002 and was the executive director of the West Virginia Public Employees Retirement System in the mid-1980s.
"He was mayor at a very important time from a transitional perspective," said current Mayor Danny Jones, who was in the restaurant business when Smith was mayor.
During Smith's tenure, department stores were shifting from downtown street-level storefronts to spaces in shopping malls. In Charleston's case, the mall was being constructed downtown instead of in suburban areas.
Smith was a strong supporter of the downtown area and publicly opposed construction of the shopping mall in Kanawha City by local entrepreneur Fred Haddad out of fear it would hurt Charleston Town Center.
He secured a $900,000 Urban Mass Transit Administration grant to move the Greyhound bus station from Summers Street to its current location on Reynolds Street. That paved the way for the development of Brawley Walkway and Slack Plaza, which were meant to connect the new mall with the older downtown business district.
"He tried to help save downtown," Jones said.
An Army veteran who served in World War II, Smith was characterized as being down-to-earth, honest and friendly, and was reported to favor Chesterfield brand cigarettes. He made it a point to use his middle initial to set himself apart from the "nine other Joe or Joseph Smiths in the phone book."
Smith was unanimously appointed mayor by city council after his predecessor, John Hutchinson, was elected to Congress. Hutchinson was mayor when Smith was city treasurer.
"Joe served the city faithfully for a number of years," Hutchinson said. "He should be remembered for his service."
Hutchinson secured the development of Charleston Town Center in the late 1970s when he was mayor.
"He was supportive of me when I was mayor," Hutchinson said.
During negotiations over where the mall should be built, Hutchinson and Smith were able to pass a $10 million bond issue to renovate and significantly expand the Charleston Civic Center. That development helped build the mall downtown, as it showed the area to be secure for development.
In 1981, Smith persuaded council to pass a 10.5 percent pay increase for police officers, firefighters and ambulance personnel. He supported another pay increase the next year in the form of a $1,800 across-the-board jump. At the time, salaries for the city's first responders were below the state average.
His time as mayor wasn't without a few controversies.
Halfway through his term, two officer-involved shootings resulted in the resignation of Police Chief Harry Silverman and the firing of officer Greg Johnson. Smith questioned whether the shootings were reasonable, as one incident involved a suspect who was shot at 12 times near the Orchard Manor housing project.