Community redeveloping by reimagining abandoned buildings

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 6:39 PM EDT
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SUTTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Many buildings along Main Street in Sutton remain empty years after the decline of coal and a fire that damaged multiple storefronts.

The Sutton Community Development Corporation is hoping to change that by turning the abandoned buildings into a park and garden. The group has already seen success with its community garden and farmers market near the river, and hope this will bring more tourists into town that visit for the Elk River Trail.

“The business side of things in town are a little bit low right now, but we are optimistic,” Community Development Corporation President Becky Conrad said. “We know Sutton has always bounced back and we will thrive again some day. I just feel like all these little things will make that one big thing. We will have people investing in our community, and that is already happening.”

Conrad said promoting outdoor recreation and living will create a healthier community. She is also hopeful it will draw visitors who might fall in love with the town and decide they want to move there. However, it is now a struggle to sell buildings and attract more businesses to Main Street due to the rundown appearance of the area.

The group is looking to showcase the wonderful events and unique outdoor areas through this project, while preventing a historic stretch of buildings from being torn down due to their dilapidated condition. Conrad said the goal is to attract restaurants and lodging to the salvageable buildings in town to further boost business.

“I want them to come back and reinvest into our community,” Conrad said about her children and others who have left the area in recent years. “I know by doing these little things -- by creating this downtown where our residents have a place to go and things to do, and visitors and tourists have a place to go and things to do when they come to town -- that’s what it’s going to take.”

“We have to fix up the buildings first in town and then get businesses to come in,” Sutton Library president and newly elected town councilwoman Beth Atkins said. “We are such a quaint little town, and we are not far off of the interstate, and we are in the middle of the state. We would like people to come and visit but also move here.”

Atkins said the town and library have a number of programs that make the area attractive to people looking to take advantage of the river and Sutton Lake. These make the area very family friendly

She is hopeful additional investment will allow them to create a riverfront park for kayakers and to be used during town festivals, but said every problem can’t be fixed at once.

“We try to take the library out to festivals, like we are going to be at the Big Foot Festival this coming Saturday,” Atkins said. “We will be reading to the kids, providing a craft for the kids and help get the word out that we are here for them.”

That success has already been seen in the growth of the Mountain Laurel Country Store. It has only been open for a few years, but has already opened the West Virginia Bigfoot Museum next door. The owners are also expanding to include a bed and breakfast and indoor farmers market to allow small businesses to get started.

“There’s the sense of neighbor, the sense of community,” owner Louis Petolicchio said about the town. “The sense of everyone working together, rather than everyone working for their own self interests.”

Petolicchio said more locally owned stores can succeed in the town, and wants other people to help the community thrive and grow. The gardens and other projects being worked on by Conrad and other community leaders are just the start of rebuilding the town to a place tourists frequently visit, he said.

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