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Plans for a larger facility in the works

by James Logue on March 24, 2015
FOR THE EXPONENT TELEGRAM

Bridgeport Conference Center has played large part in region's tourism business

CLARKSBURG — After nine short years, the Bridgeport Conference Center is enjoying great success. So much so, that a newer, bigger facility is in the works.

"If you look back nine years, there was the conference center, the Wingate Hotel and a couple of cows," said Scott Duarte, general manager of the Bridgeport Conference Center. "Now we are a meetings destination that this area didn't have for many years. And the demand is there for a new facility."

Plans are to build a new 25,000-square-foot conference center nearby with an adjoining hotel.

Mark Dellana, executive director for development at Charles Pointe, said the current 15,000-square-foot conference center is having trouble accommodating larger events.

"We need a little more size to put large groups in. There are a lot of family events, for instance, where you can get 300 to 400 people. We don't have to do studies to see if we have a need. We already know that," Dellana said.

Duarte said last year's meeting of the state Municipal League showed the need for a bigger conference center. A climate-controlled tent was erected in the parking lot for extra meeting and dining space.

"That alone is justification for a new facility," Duarte said.

The Bridgeport Conference Center has played a large role in tourism in the region, Duarte said. The facility landed about 300 events last year of all different sizes. And it has done so in a very competitive market.

"In our location, we compete with Morgantown and Flatwoods. Because of that we have to keep an eye on quality of service, and that keeps them coming back," Duarte said. "Repeat business makes up a large majority of our business, and that speaks volumes."

Once the conferences are booked, participants are also looking for things to do when they're not in meetings. Bridgeport can offer pleasant distractions to the hum-drum of meetings and workshops.

"We have Meadowbrook Mall for shopping and movies, and there are opportunities for golfing," said Michelle Duez, executive director of the Bridgeport Visitors and Convention Bureau. "Plus, you can get just about anywhere to state parks and the best West Virginia has to offer.

"Sports is also a big draw in this area, and the Bridgeport Recreational Complex is the best in the state for baseball and softball tournaments," Duez said.

And the Bridgeport Conference Center has played a role in recent years in big-time college sports by hosting Big 12 football teams that come to play WVU.

"We had TCU and Baylor last year," Duarte said, "and we are well on our way to signing four or five teams this year. In our discussions with the coaches, they love the ease of access and efficiency. When they land at the airport, they are off the plane and in the hotel room in 20 minutes, and they love that."

The conference center allows ample meeting and dining space for teams, and it provides bus service for the players to Mountaineer Field.

"It used to be that teams would fly into Pittsburgh and stay in Washington, Pennsylvania," Duarte said. "The only time they would see West Virginia was at the football stadium. Then after the game they'd go back to the Pittsburgh airport."

When all the particulars are worked out, Dellana said the new conference center and hotel could be open in a matter of 18 months to two years. The new facility would be built nearby at the end of Market Place, just off Conference Center Road.

"The new center will allow us to do more things," Dellana said. "We have the location tied up, and I have the proposals ready to execute."

Charles Pointe hospitality offerings poised to grow

by Jeremiah Shelor on March 24, 2015
The Exponent Telegram
STAFF WRITER

Development proves to be a'tremendous asset' to area

BRIDGEPORT — In 2014, Charles Pointe, the state's first planned mixed-use development, continued to excel in its hospitality offerings.

"Each consecutive year, we've seen some growth, and that's been very inspiring," said Scott Duarte, general manager of the Bridgeport Conference Center. "The area is still primed for great meetings and events, and we're doing plenty of them."

In 2014, Charles Pointe played host to the legislative interims, the West Virginia Municipal League conference and Big 12 football school traveling parties to name just a few.

Duarte said the legislative interims offered an opportunity for state leaders to tour North Central West Virginia. It also offered a chance to reflect on the growth that's happened along Interstate 79 compared to the last time the interims were held in Harrison County, he said.

"A lot of those folks got to see the change over the past six years, and they were very impressed," Duarte said. "I think we were able to demonstrate a great deal of progress in North Central West Virginia."

Kathy Wagner, president of the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, said Charles Pointe, by offering a first-class venue for large events, has proven to be a "tremendous asset" for the county.

Wagner noted that Charles Pointe will host the 2015 West Virginia Economic Development Fall Conference.

"Without that, we wouldn't be able to hold those kinds of meetings in Harrison County, so we're fortunate to have an asset where we can do that and showcase what's going on economically in the county," Wagner said. "It makes a very good first impression to see the development as you come off the interstate, to have a first-class conference center that has the space and staff that can accommodate larger groups."

But as Duarte has pointed out on multiple occasions, the current facility has had to turn away business because it isn't big enough for all events.

That's sure to change soon, as the city of Bridgeport, the Harrison County Commission and the developers have come together to finance a project that will bring a second conference facility and a multi-use complex to Charles Pointe's North Land Bay.

The new facilities will spring up in the currently empty lot on the other side of Genesis Boulevard across from Mia Margherita's.

The multi-use complex will house the Bridgeport Farmers Market and the Greater Bridgeport Convention & Visitors Bureau. There's also been discussion of putting the Mountain East Conference's headquarters in the complex, according to Duarte.

Duarte said there's significant potential for future growth by cultivating the area's recreational and agricultural assets alongside the expanding conference space and lodging at Charles Pointe.

"I can certainly see our conference footprint growing, our recreational activities footprint growing," Duarte said.

Between the Big 12 schools flying into town and the other sporting tournaments hosted in the area, Charles Pointe's hospitality has helped to ensure repeat visits to North Central West Virginia, Duarte said.

"These folks are coming in and bringing their families. They have recreation and lodging and the overall hospitality," Duarte said.

Pretty soon, those lodging at Charles Pointe will wake up on weekends to the sights and sounds of the Bridgeport Farmers Market buzzing in the courtyard of the new multi-use complex, Duarte said.

Drew Pomeroy, president of the Greater Bridgeport Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the farmers market, by serving as an "incubator" for new small businesses, can help lead to other offerings at Charles Pointe.

"I think we can have some specific businesses that can sprout up around that," Pomeroy said. "We've seen in the past a couple businesses crop up from a farmers market and end up growing into a seven-day business, and hopefully we can continue that trend."

Duarte said there are plans for a market-fresh food court at the multi-use complex, offering locally sourced foods

"It'll have more of the local foods, more of a kind of 'walk up and order your food in the market' style environment," Duarte said.

Pomeroy said he envisions the multi-use complex also serving as a cultural hub of sorts, a venue for different kinds of gatherings, such as concerts or even yoga classes.

"It's an open space built around a concept of people wanting to get healthier through what they eat and what they do," Pomeroy said.

Having this kind of venue could even help business development by serving as a recruitment tool for businesses looking to attract or retain talent in North Central West Virginia, he said.

"It's probably hard to quantify, but if you ever spend any time in bigger cities ... you always see these kinds of community hubs built around places where these social events can happen — whether it be a farmers market, whether it be an arts event, whether it be a meeting space," Pomeroy said. "All of these successful cities have these types of components built in."

The expanded conference space, along with the farmers market and other offerings, creates a recipe for attracting "future visitors and hopefully future residents" to the region, according to Wagner.

"Any time you can co-locate and create a destination, it's obviously a benefit to the community. With the larger conference center planned, being able to bring in larger groups, it opens up a whole new opportunity for not only the region and the state but nationally," Wagner said. "We could look at attracting national conferences."

The new conference facility is still about a year and a half to two years from completion, but there are other developments at Charles Pointe to look forward to in the meantime, Duarte said.

A robust lineup of restaurants — including Mia Margherita, Meagher's Irish Pub and Buffalo Wild Wings — is poised to grow in 2015 with the new Mia Market, Duarte said.

Mia Market will offer an Italian deli, craft beer, wines and pizza by the slice. Patrons will be able pop in and out or sit down to savor their food, Duarte said.

The market will go in Charles Pointe Commons near the current restaurant, he said.

"It's an extension of our Mia Margherita brand," Duarte said. "It's adding another 900 square feet to the footprint."

As for Mia Margherita, a brand-new restaurant that first opened in late 2013, things have been going well, according to Duarte. The restaurant was honored as New Business of the Year by the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, and its chefs took home the People's Choice award from the Castiron Cook-off in Charleston, Duarte said.

Mia Margherita has been well-received by the community, Duarte said. The commitment of its staff to serving quality food has been the driving force in that, he said.

"It takes a lot of craftsmanship. The folks we have working there, they take a lot of pride in what they do," Duarte said. "They're there because they want to be there. They take a lot of pride in their food, and it makes a difference."