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Imagine Charleston could bring new growth

Charleston, the state's capital city, lies in the middle of a narrow valley along the Kanawha Valley. Once, more than 85,000 people called Charleston home.

That can happen again.

Officials with the city Planning Department,the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority and the Charleston Area Alliance worked for 18 months with consultants from LSL Planning and MKSK to develop a plan for the city's future.

Consultants to the Imagine Charleston project drafted the 2013 Downtown Charleston Redevelopment plan "that will allow Charleston to continue to emerge as the cultural, recreational and business center of the Appalachian region," according to the plan.

That ambitious goal involves using existing facilities, such as Appalachian Power Park, and other assets such as the Kanawha River as building blocks.

The study said improved housing is the biggest issue that faces Charleston.

"Charleston's housing stock must be elevated," said Craig Gossman, a principal with MKSK.

That upgrade would be done by private developers who invest in "infill buildings" - new structures on currently unoccupied lots in the city.

Getting people to move downtown also requires making downtown more livable. Thus, the plan calls for making the streets more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians.

The plan calls for increasing the number of people who are downtown after 5 p.m. and by providing a neighborhood where residents can walk to a wide variety of businesses.

"How does downtown truly start to become a neighborhood?" Gossman asked rhetorically.

Other cities have achieved this. In 1970, Charleston, S.C., was the smaller Charleston, with 60,288 residents to Charleston, W.Va.'s 85,796.

Now what aviators call "Charlie South" has doubled its population to 125,583 people, while "Charlie West" has 51,018 residents.

Redeveloping will take time, effort and leadership. This plan shows the leadership is there with a vision of a 21st century big city with a small town heart.

The Imagine Charleston group is seeking public comment on the plan. People can view it online at imaginecharleston.com/exhibits/downtown.


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