City wants to make Sunnyside shine Morgantown's student district getting a facelift Deanna Wrenn Daily Mail Capitol reporter Wednesday August 20, 2003; 10:00 AM MORGANTOWN --
West Virginia University student Gaelen Lowers can't sit on his toilet without water dripping on him from a leaky ceiling. He doesn't use the refrigerator because blue sparks shoot from the bottom every time it's plugged in. He's got one faucet that never stops dripping and a drop ceiling in one bedroom that's dropped so far it collapsed. Lowers lives in Sunnyside, a legendary/notorious Morgantown neighborhood bordering WVU where students often head for cheap rents and laid-back living. He pays less than $300 a month for his Grant Avenue abode in a section of town recently declared a slum by City Council. "We try to fix it up as much as we can, but hell, it's a Grant Street house," Lowers said. "What can you do?"
The university and city have lots of ideas about what can be done with Sunnyside. They want to change it from couch-burning, football-rioting, block-party Sunnyside to planned-development, nice-apartments, theater-and-entertainment Sunnyside. So far, plans steadily are moving along. Sunnyside is in the midst of hundreds of millions of dollars of proposed development. Dozens of old houses already have been demolished, and more are on their way down. "We're already seeing new buildings going up in Sunnyside," Morgantown City Manager Dan Boroff said. "It will be an opportunity for a brand new atmosphere."
Now that city council declared part of Sunnyside a slum, the city can apply for half a million dollars in a Small Cities Block Grant. It also means more than $600,000 will be pouring into the city each year for the next 10 years to help with infrastructure in the slum area, Mayor Ron Justice said. The city and university already are pitching in $100,000 a year each to support a non-profit organization called Sunnyside Up, which will hire consultants to design a future plan for the neighborhood. Much-needed parking lots are on the way, and WVU already bought an entire block in the area and demolished all the houses there. Private developers are planning more than $200 million of investment, starting with a new apartment building called Augusta on Falling Run Road along the loop near the university's new life sciences building. The Square at Falling Run eventually will include a cinema, apartments, homes, shops, cafes and parking. "It's not just the buildings, it's the uses," Boroff said. "Folks will be able to live and work and go to school right there." The first phase includes the $30 million Augusta, which is depending on $10 million from the state Economic Development Grant Committee and $17 million to $20 million in tax increment financing. More than half a dozen houses along Falling Run have been demolished to make way for the new building. "That really could be one of the key projects in the entire state," Justice said. Developers are becoming more and more interested in Sunnyside as more old buildings go down and new ones go up. Just last week at a city council meeting, Justice learned another developer is working on a $15 million project near Sunnyside's small business area. "It's kind of like a Monopoly game right now," Justice said. Many of the houses and properties that are being snatched up in the development game have seen better days. Sunnyside started being as a neighborhood for university faculty and families more than 70 years ago, Justice said. The houses were meant for single families, not half a dozen college kids. Inspections have been a problem for many homes, and repeated house fires in the area have beefed up enforcement of building codes. If houses don't meet standards, students can't live there. And as more and more houses are torn down in the area, students are moving elsewhere to places that are just as cheap, Justice said. "Students are paying pretty much the price to live in something they want to live in," Justice said. "An Internet hookup, washer/dryer, the whole deal -- those things are more appealing today than they were 10 or 15 years ago. They're paying a little more money to live in those places." Student Michael Mallet, originally from Florida, has lived on Grant Avenue for nine months and gladly would move to a nicer area if he could find a place for the same rent. "I pay $450 a month, and you should see this place," Mallet said. "If you threw some crack vials down, it would look about right. If you went in half these places, you wouldn't believe people lived there." Other students like the proximity to the university and the comfortable atmosphere of house parties and relaxing on front porches. "It's close to campus," said Angie McCombs, of Wheeling. Brooke Bailey, of Charleston, said, "It's fun." Justice said as more new developments pop up along Sunnyside, students will want to come back to the area because of the proximity to the university. They'll have better housing in the future, he hopes, and more things to do. Like other Morgantown officials, Justice envisions the entire neighborhood transforming into something new. "You're going to see the whole area unfold within the next three to five years," Justice said. Until then, Lowers doesn't mind if his home is now located in an official slum. "It doesn't both me," he said. "It's still the same old Sunnyside."
Writer George Gannon contributed to this story.
Writer Deanna Wrenn can be reached at 348-1796.
Now, my problem is thus: the only reason the housing got so bad in the first place is because the people who own the rental properties in Morgantown are on the housing board. I think I'll repeat that because it seems vaguely fucking important.
The people in charge of making sure that the housing is livable are the people who OWN THE FUCKING BUILDINGS. They are also the very same people that made this decision to declare this "Slum Area" and are now, I would assume, making sacks of cash off of this deal.
I love Morgantown and I have many fond memories of it, but it's one of the most corrupt places in the world. The only reason it doesn't self-destruct is because all of the officials and administrators and such are too busy grabbing student cash. I suppose this is the way of the world, but let's not dress up the latest money scam and make it look like benevolence. If you're going to be a money grubbing fucking hypocrite, then be a money grubbing fucking hypocrite. Don't expect a fucking medal from me.