BECKLEY, W.Va. — Following this week’s announcement from Reconnecting McDowell that a spring groundbreaking is planned for the education-backed group’s proposed Renaissance Village teachers housing complex in Welch, an informational partners meeting was held at the Tamarack plaza in Beckley on Tuesday.

Gayle Manchin, West Virginia’s former first lady and former president of the state Board of Education, is chairwoman of Reconnecting McDowell. She told MetroNews there have been a lot of changes since the inception of the original proposal for the Renaissance Village building — including the name.

“Initially, we were going to call it ‘the Teachers Village’ and then we realized there were other professional people in McDowell County, and hoped we would recruit more through economic development. And so it wasn’t just an opportunity for teachers to have good, affordable housing but any professional that came into McDowell County,” said Manchin.

She added that, because the building will also have retail spaces available on the ground floor, it could generate a ripple effect for the local economy.

“We felt that that was actually very important, if we could have a coffee shop on that main level. One of our health providers in McDowell County is actually thinking about having sort of a MedExpress-type clinic in part of that area…you always hope that once one thing starts, it spurs other entities, whether it be a laundry mat or whatever, to come in and hopefully then go into some of the other vacant buildings,” she said.

Reconnecting McDowell, which was founded in 2011, is made up more than 120 public and private partners, and has the backing of the American Federation of Teachers. It’s goals include educational support and economic revitalization in McDowell County.

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