With hopes pinned on securing a state grant to help catapult a redevelopment plan of the Central Virginia Training Center property into action, a panel of local officials has decided to contribute $150,000 toward the process.
CVTC, a state-run site of roughly 350 acres near the James River in Madison Heights, is set to close its doors at the end of June 2020. The center serves individuals with disabilities and its staff and residents are dwindling. Most of its 98 buildings are unused as it plans to end operations as part of a legal settlement between the commonwealth and U.S. Department of Justice.
The Central Virginia Planning District Commission, which consists of leaders from the city of Lynchburg and counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell, voted at its Thursday meeting to put $150,000 toward the GO Virginia grant application. If approved, the state grant could match $250,000 toward the redevelopment plan.
The Amherst County Board of Supervisors and the Amherst County Economic Development Authority’s board each decided recently to put $50,000 a piece toward the grant. Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers made the request for the commission to back the remaining $150,000 out of its reserves of about $900,000 — a third of which is unassigned.
Rodgers said member localities have contributed toward building up the commission’s reserve with the idea of “something big for the future” and he feels redeveloping CVTC fits that bill. He noted a Richmond firm’s study into CVTC several years ago found the Madison Heights facility, when its employment and residency base was much more robust, generated $87 million of yearly economic benefits to the region, of which more than $60 million was outside of Amherst County.
“We’re trying to plug that hole,” Rodgers said.
Finding the highest and best use for the site could bring even more financial benefit so getting a redevelopment plan in place is crucial, he said.
“This is a massive opportunity and opportunities only present themselves in windows,” Rodgers said. “You jump when the window opens.”
Altavista Town Manager Waverly Coggsdale was the lone vote against contributing the $150,000 Thursday. He said he supported the recommendation of the commission’s executive committee to give a dollar-for-dollar match to what localities raise, which as of Thursday stood at $100,000, which would have left another $25,000 to be raised.
Rodgers said he felt it would have been difficult to raise the extra money, especially as local governments are coming out of tight budget seasons. He said Amherst County used a fourth of its own unassigned money for unforeseen needs next fiscal year to “put skin in the game” toward its $50,000 portion.
The Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance is prepared to seek $250,000 from private sector money and other sources if the state grant doesn’t come through. Lynchburg City Manager Bonnie Svrcek said a presentation also is planned to go before the Lynchburg Economic Development Authority at its June 20 meeting and it could consider potentially contributing at some point.
Town of Appomattox Mayor Paul Harvey said he feels Amherst County officials should put in more money.
“It seems a little unfair for this body to provide a sixth of their reserves and half of their unassigned [reserve money] for this one project,” Harvey said. “I just feel like y’all will benefit the longest from this deal. To ask this body to give up 50 percent of its unassigned money is a little bit of a large request.”
Rodgers countered he believes where the site is located is irrelevant and redeveloping CVTC and jobs that could bring would benefit the region.
“I don’t think it’s fair to wield location,” Rodgers said.
“It’s close enough to everybody to hit everybody,” Commission Chairman Kenneth Campbell, an Amherst supervisor, said of future activity at CVTC’s site benefiting the Lynchburg area.
Amherst County may consider creating an overlay tax district on some or all of CVTC’s campus so other localities could recoup money invested as the site is developed. Rodgers said the Virginia Department of General Services is set to take over the property once the training center closes and its goal is to recover $18 million in bonds while the county’s aim is to gain tax revenue.
The redevelopment plan involves hiring a company and would consist of a four-phase process including a kickoff meeting, forming a steering committee and generating public involvement, touring the site, creating a website, conducting a market assessment for development potential, establishing a consensus-driven vision and preparing a conceptual redevelopment master plan.
“It’s a very robust plan,” Svrcek said.
Justin Faulconer covers Amherst County for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5551.