April 23, 2014

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Businessman, Developer, Fighter

It was difficult not to notice Dick Thomas.

Before and after he was Belpre's Mayor, Dick Thomas was like an alarm clock trying to wake up Belpre.

It was as if he was directly or indirectly related to three people: Former Ohio Governor James Rhodes, Former Columbus, Ohio Mayor (and Parkersburg native) Dana "Buck" Rinehart, and Former Parkersburg Mayor Al Smith.

All three constantly were trying to advance ideas (some might describe them as "schemes") aimed at economically promoting their cities or states.

Thomas had plenty of those ideas.

For instance, he wanted to decentralize Washington County Government by moving some of its offices from Marietta to Belpre.  It never happened, but he pushed for it even after he left the mayor's office--by running, unsuccessfully, for the county commission.

In the realm of economic development, I recall one of the more interesting ideas he was behind was a Dairy Queen restaurant docked along the Ohio River (dubbed a "floating DQ").  That never happened.

But there were things which did.  One was a water and sewer rate increase to help upgrade the city's infrastructure.  There hadn't been a rate hike in 30 years.  Thomas sold it--hard--to city council and it passed.

Then there was the city building.  Belpre's city offices were housed in a former bank.  In fact, if you were in the city council chambers, you could see where the bank vault had been.  Thomas, with the help of the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce, helped negotiate a deal where a new city hall would be located by the chamber's offices near Howes Grove Park.  At the same time, a new Rite Aid drugstore would be located at the old city hall site.  In spite of some opposition from council, the whole thing happened in less than two years, from 1997-99.  By comparison, there's been talk about a new city building in Marietta for more than 15 years.

Thomas didn't quit promoting the city after he left office at the end of 1999.  In 2005, he was part of a group trying to repeal Belpre's "dry" non-alcohol laws, saying they prohibited chain restaurants which serve alcohol from locating in the city.  The referendum was rejected.  But rejection never deterred Dick Thomas.

He was a fighter.  Right up to the end.

 

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