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SVHEC to create IT Academy

The full panel of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification & Community Revitalization Commission (TICR) on Thursday approved the SVHEC’s grant application to establish the IT Academy in South Boston.

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Fairgrounds plans tilt towards economic development

SoVaNow.com / February 07, 2013
After expressing dissatisfaction with an initial version of a fairgrounds master plan, county supervisors got a look Monday at three more alternatives for the future of the 250-acre, $3.5 million property.

Unlike the first presentation — which called for spending $18 million at the fairgrounds in multiple phases to create “a top notch destination point”— the three versions offered Monday by Dewberry, Inc. focused more on traditional economic development objectives.

Supervisors had complained that the fairgrounds master plan as originally presented at their Jan. 24 strategic retreat wasn’t what they had asked for, but before Dewberry consultant Brian Bradner could address the matter, County Administrator Jim Halasz took responsibility for the thrust of the presentation and apologized to board members.

Halasz explained that he was responsible for the decision to highlight only one of the four master plan alternatives drawn up by Dewberry. He attributed the mix-up to his own lack of understanding of what the Board had wanted out of the fairgrounds study.

Halasz noted he had just taken over the position of County Administrator around the time the master plan was being completed. As part of the process, Dewberry had consulted with a citizen group named by the supervisors to offer input on the future use of the fairgrounds. When it came time to report back to the supervisors, Halasz said, he suggested to Dewberry that it should present to supervisors the version that the committee favored.

That plan, Scheme A, calls for extensive renovations and additions to the fairgrounds to transform it into a year-round, multi-purpose entertainment, festival and special events venue. Improvements would be conducted in multiple phases over a span of years, and would include an automotive museum, campgrounds and recreational areas, and new signs and building facades. Dewberry projects the overhaul would cost $18 million.

The master plan versions that the supervisors heard Monday, by contrast, focused on how to use the fairgrounds site to foster business and industrial development. Dewberry’s Bradner presented three basic options:

-- Scheme B, under which the main fairgrounds property would remain intact, but the county would relocate its adjoining waste transfer station and open a 15 acre tract to rail access and potential industrial development.

-- Scheme C, which calls for leaving the transfer station in place and carving up the fairgrounds to free up some 60 acres for industrial development.

-- Scheme D, under which the county would move both the fairgrounds and the transfer station, leaving the entire usable land area available for industrial development.

ED#3 supervisor William Fitzgerald asked Bradner what his recommendation would be “for the most advantageous use of the property.”

Bradner responded that it is hard to put a price on moving the fair and its value to the community. But he urged the Board to proceed with installing water and sewer utilities to the property, saying the upgrade will be needed regardless of how the property is developed in the future.

He estimated it would cost $1.2 million to extend water and sewer to the site. Relocating the transfer station would cost an estimated $2.3 million.

Campgrounds could be built at the fairgrounds for $201,700, he said, while improvements to the internal roads would cost $520,000. He pegged the expense of addding industrial site pads on the western side of the park at $41,700; developing three lots on the eastern side would cost $87,300, he said.

Bradner said there are pros and cons involved in moving the fairgrounds, the transfer station, or both. “It depends on what type of industry the county is soliciting,” he said, adding that the relocation of the transfer station would likely take at least 18 months, and it might not be feasible for a prospective industry to wait that long.

He said the western side of the park, which is bare, would be the easiest and quickest part to develop.

ED#4 supervisor Doug Bowman concurred that getting water and sewer to the property would be “an immediate benefit, probably the best money that the county can spend at this time.”

Bowman said the Board needs to offer guidance to the county Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and executive director Matt Leonard on what parts of the property can best be marketed.

J. T. Davis, ED#1 supervisor, said he hopes Halifax County can secure grant funding for the installation of water and sewer to the property.

During the citizen comment period, Bobby Conner with the Heritage Festival asked supervisors to retain the fairgrounds for the group’s use, even as it sets aside some of the property for development. Conner noted that the Heritage Festival group has invested money to improve the property and has big plans for special events during the coming season.

“We’re not asking that you spend money,” said Conner, “we just need a commitment to have a place for a full fledged tractor pull and a bluegrass event which we have planned for the summer.”

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Comments

If the County Administrator didn't know for sure what the Supes wanted out of this property, not surprising no one else did either.

Kudos to Mr Halacz for taking responsibility and setting the record straight, while the rest just sat around grumbling.

If Bobby Conner & co have invested in the Fairgrounds property to improve it for their use in the Heritage Festival, seems the BoS should give some consideration to their request.

Still don't see the value in developing the Fairgrounds as an industrial park when the existing ones go begging for tenants for years.


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