Archive for March, 2011

The Alban Arts and Conference Center on Main Street, St. Albans, WV.

Main Street, St. Albans, WV, 1965

It’s a Saturday afternoon and the Alban Theater is packed.  Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello are starring in Beach Blanket Bingo.  As part of the pre-movie entertainment, Uncle Willie, a local clown celebrity, is telling silly jokes and performing goofy magic tricks that only kids could enjoy.  “I make big money,” Uncle Willie says, as he unfolds a bath towel-sized dollar bill.

Main Street has everything from the “five and dime” to upscale men’s and women’s clothing stores.  Two-way traffic and parallel parking on both sides jam the street.  It is the center of town and in every sense of the word, it is truly St. Albans’ Main Street.

Main Street, St. Albans, WV, 1981

A few years earlier, the St. Albans Mall opened a few blocks away.  Many of the Main Street shops have made the move.  In an effort to compete, plans are developed to convert Main Street into a pedestrian mall.  Plans include an anchor tenant.  A loop roadway is built to enable traffic to circle the new pedestrian mall.

Within a year or so, the project is complete.  An iconic clock tower is built at the center of the mall.  At one end is a gazebo for public events.  At the other end, a fountain.  In between, lots of benches, shelters and landscaping.  It’s postcard perfect.

But no anchor tenant.  And few shoppers.

Main Street, St. Albans, WV, 2004

Main Street is synonymous with vacant storefronts and trouble.  “Main Street” seems to have moved to Sixth Avenue, where new banks and office buildings have sprung up.  Some city leaders see the old Main Street as a lost cause, not wanting to invest another dime.  In an attempt to reverse the decline, Mayor Richard Milam directs an experiment to see what kind of effect reopening the street to vehicular traffic might have.  Obstructions are removed and parking bumpers are used to form “curbs” to control the traffic.  Vacant storefronts begin to attract new merchants.

Main Street, St. Albans, WV, 2007

Mayor Dick Callaway directs the reconstruction of a true Main Street.  The current version is one-way, with angled parking on one side.  There are still issues associated with after-hours troublemakers but more businesses are showing interest.

Main Street, St. Albans, WV, 2008

The St. Albans Regional Development Authority purchases the old Alban Theater and begins the transformation into the Alban Arts and Conference Center.  More businesses open.

Main Street, St. Albans, WV, 2011

The ongoing streetscape projects the City has undertaken over the last several years revamp B Street and clean up the west end of Main Street.  Sassafras Junction, a puppet theater, begins operation.  The revitalization of Main Street is stronger than ever.

Images of St. Albans' past are evident even as the revitalization moves forward.

(With regard to the historical accuracy of the facts presented above, I know they are substantially correct; however, I may be off a year or so in my dates or other minor details.  Feel free to offer corrections.)

Main Street is still in transition.  With the way our behavior changes in reaction to our ever-changing world, it will always be in some sort of transition.  What it will be tomorrow is not what it is today.  And it most definitely will not be what it was yesterday.  1965 is long gone.

But the future is promising. It’s beginning to feel like a special place again. The Alban glows.  Street lights and banners contribute to the feeling.  You can sense a growing community of the arts.

There is still work to do.  As Main Street begins to feel safer and more alive, it will start to draw people who just want a place to hang out.  Maybe have a cup of coffee.  Maybe enjoy an ice cream cone before the bluegrass show at the Alban.  And before you know it, it has become a place for people.  Wouldn’t that be cool?

For better or for worse?

Posted: March 13, 2011 in Uncategorized


Two opposing sides give in a little to reach a decision with which they both can live.  It’s how we make progress.


To accept standards that are lower than desirable.


A community worked for years to build a new park.  Though the interests and desires of the community were many and varied, through the spirit of compromise they were able to develop a program that would eventually improve the quality of life for everyone.  The dream was about to become reality.

A friend once told me that car salespeople sell a fantasy.  The car glistens in the showroom.  The buyer envisions the car winding through the mountains, wind in his hair. He doesn’t think about the oil changes, the worn tires, the inevitable dings and dents.  He buys the car because he wants the fantasy.

Projects are the same way.  From the first sketch on the back of a napkin to the grant award, it’s all easy fantasy.  Shortly after that comes the first ding.  Usually, despite the generous grant, there’s not enough money to fund the complete dream.  There’s a compromise on what the first phase of the project will include.

When the project was on the back of a napkin, people weren’t paying much attention to the details.  But when the design development drawings show that the water feature has a basin in which people could splash around in the water, the city leaders get nervous about soap bubbles, kids playing with boats, and the inevitable lawsuits.  Another compromise puts the basin below grade so there are no accessible water pools.

As the project gets closer to construction, the issue of security comes to the forefront.  Despite an understanding of the principle of inclusion, images of drug dealers come to mind and the broad, easy access to the park is reduced to a six-foot lockable gate.  It’s hard to argue against erring on the side of safety.

There will be more issues and more compromises.  Some are patently necessary; others are judgments thought to be prudent.

Compromise is part of the process.  Compromise is part of life.  Sometimes compromise is the easy way out.

When we accept standards lower than desirable, you have to question whether compromise is the right thing.  And of course that takes courage.