The city of Somerset is preparing a master plan that will make downtown attractive to small businesses.
Mayor Eddie Girdler said the plan is tied to the city’s proposed energy center, the magnificent glass-bedecked structure that will serve as a nerve center for Somerset’s natural gas network and city government headquarters.
“We must create an atmosphere in which small business owners believe in and are willing to invest in downtown Somerset,” Girdler declared. He said retail sales and sales taxes are keys to success of the TIF (tax incentive financing) program being promoted by Downtown Somerset Development Corporation.
The master plan, expected to be completed in about six months, includes purchases of properties on North Center Avenue that tie in with East Mt. Vernon Street and efforts to revive the Virginia Theater. The energy center will be located at the corner of North College and East Mt. Vernon streets. Several properties, including the former Meece Hardware building, have already been purchased by the city to provide space for the energy center.
Girdler has made no secret that current renovation of Fountain Square does not exactly match his plans for downtown. He envisioned partial removal of the square and creation of sidewalk cafes, especially since Somerset approved legal sale of alcoholic beverages last summer.
However, the county owns the square in the center of downtown and has moved ahead with the $1 million renovation project.
“We’ve moved beyond that ... we’ve sidestepped that,” said Girdler. He agrees the renovated square will improve downtown and wished the project success.
“That is what it is,” Girdler said.