By Greg Oliver
CLEMSON — A visit by Clemson officials to Blacksburg, Va., in the early 1990s inspired what later became Clemson Area Transit, and it appears the home of Virginia Tech has again played a key role in the city moratorium steering committee’s recommendation of a St. Louis firm to serve as consultant.
The committee approved Development Strategies by an 11-1 vote Friday afternoon, with Steve Mudge the only member to vote in opposition.
Although a final decision will have to come from Clemson City Council, which will meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday, committee chairman Bob Brookover said he is glad to see the process moving forward.
“I’m excited to get going and get someone on the ground as we get through the process of negotiating a contract with the consultant, and excited about the possibilities of who we have on the table,” Brookover said. “I think it’s going to have a lot of potential to be a great process.”
Mudge said his dissenting vote was not based on the qualifications of Development Strategies, but instead involved three concerns.
“The time period we’ve got to work in, the lack of experience of working in Clemson and the distance,” Mudge said. “I didn’t see any evidence of working in South Carolina or Clemson. Do they understand our laws or ordinances they have to make recommendations on? Getting up to speed is an issue. I just think that’s going to be an uphill climb.”
But Mudge said his feelings won’t affect the ability to work with the firm.
“I’m happy to work with them,” he said.
Other committee members said the distance of the firm is actually a positive in their minds.
“I see that as an advantage of coming into Clemson without a preconceived viewpoint,” Tim Fowler said. “Even though I don’t like the fact they are so far away, I love the fact they don’t have a dog in the fight. Everything I heard was pretty much in line with what we need, even with the negative of them not being close by.”
Another key factor cited by Brookover and other committee members was Development Strategies’ work in Blacksburg, Va.
“The Blacksburg project they presented had a lot of similarities to what we’re working with here now,” he said. “While others did well in their presentation, they provided a little deeper analysis in how they use the tools and data they had pulled together into something really kind of easy to understand and to see the kind of social impact stuff, the character of how different kinds of options and different things could end up looking in the area. So that was a big factor.”
Robert Halfacre, who represents city council on the committee along with mayor pro tem John Ducworth and Crossie Cox, agreed that Development Strategies’ work in Blacksburg was a key element.
“We were looking at Blacksburg from a visionary standpoint, and there are some similarities,” Halfacre said.
Blacksburg, Va., town manager Marc Verniel told The Journal on Friday afternoon that Development Strategies initially completed a downtown housing strategy for the town in 2015, providing a detailed look at housing and redevelopment opportunities in the downtown area.
“We were specifically interested in the viability of non-student housing in our downtown,” Verniel said. “In order to examine the viability of non-student housing, we had to understand the dynamics in our housing market town-wide and the impacts of student housing. This project helped the town set policy related to both student and non-student housing in Blacksburg.”
Verniel added that the firm also worked with the town on a downtown strategic plan completed early last year.
“Blacksburg is growing relatively quickly due to significant enrollment growth at Virginia Tech, and the plan was completed to set policy for how our downtown should prepare to accommodate this growth,” he said. “Blacksburg and Clemson share some similarities in that we are both college towns with large land-grant universities.”
Cox said she “couldn’t be happier,” adding the committee “has worked really, really hard under a very short timeline.”
“We had three A-plus consultants who applied for this possibility of working with the city,” Cox said. “This decision wasn’t easy, but I think we made the right decision.
“We’re going to try and keep them on a timeline — right now it’s going to be the end of June, with a 90-day extension if they need it. But we hope that we will keep them on target for the end of June for completion of this project. It’s going to be a tough one, and four months isn’t a lot, but we feel they can do it.”
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