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Halifax County supervisors to seek millions in Tobacco Commission funds / August 04, 2010
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors on Monday signed off on two economic development initiatives that will require millions from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to come to fruition.

The supervisors authorized a $3.1 million request for tobacco funds to purchase and renovate the shuttered Daystrom industry site in Centerville and lay plans for a new shell building at Riverstone Technology Park. The county also will ask the Tobacco Commission for $498,000 to build a new visitors center at an undisclosed location on U.S. 58.

Mike Sexton, executive director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, which is spearheading the projects, said the proposed visitors center, besides bringing tourists and retail spending to the community, would send a signal to business prospects that Halifax County is not standing pat.

“Retails sales and businesses with [active] storefronts are indicators to industries whether a community is dying or not,” said Sexton. “It [the center] is probably going to drive retail sales, we don’t know by how much, but it’s going to drive a lot of retail jobs.”

The $3.1 million Daystrom application would be used to purchase the building and upfit it for possible manufacturers. Sexton said portions of the Daystrom facility are currently being rented, by a kitchen cabinet maker and also by Sunshine Mills, which uses a section for warehousing. Sexton said his office has several other strong prospects that would fit well into the facility.

The visitors center application for $498,000 stipulates that the Halifax County IDA and the South Boston IDA will each chip in $105,000 for the capital costs of the project. Local governments would also have to provide money in their annual budgets for the costs of operation.

County Administrator George Nester said Monday the visitors center property is expected to cost $100,000, while the building would run another $335,000 and renovations would cost $273,000.

In asking for supervisors’ support, Sexton said the goals of the new facility are threefold: to increase the amount of spending by tourists, to increase the locality’s tax revenues and to increase the number of jobs locally.

According to statistics provided in a Virginia Tourism Corporation Travel Impact Study, visitors to Halifax County spent $34,112,766 in 2008 on meals, lodging, transportation, shopping, admissions and entertainment. By building a visitors center, Halifax County can expect an average increase in tourism spending conservatively pegged at six percent annually. At the high end of the estimate range, visitor spending could increase as much as 40 percent annually, the VTC report said.

At a 6 percent rate of increase, tourism spending by 2013 would exceed $40.6 million, which according to figures from the Tourism Corporation would increase local lodging tax receipts by $41,618 and food service taxes by $143,094. The growth would also create 91 new jobs for the area, the VTC estimates.

Both of the applications for funding are due to be presented to the Tobacco Commission on Aug. 16.

Sexton added that without the Tobacco Commission’s support, Halifax County likely will not be able to move forward with the center. “This is a good little project if we can get support from the Tobacco Commission. Otherwise we can’t afford it,” he said.

Earlier in their session Monday night, supervisors discussed opportunities to pursue economic development projects using another source of outside funding, the federal stimulus package. The County is eligible to apply for 55 percent of the cost of economic development-related equipment, with the County responsible for the other 45 percent, up to a cap of $200,000.

ED-1 Supervisor J.T. Davis made a motion, approved on a 7-1 vote, to apply for funding to purchase a portable, inflatable stage with a portable generator. The stage could be used at the fairgrounds, at Edmunds Park or moved around to numerous other sites across the county, said Davis in pressing for the proposal.

“We can’t continue doing things just like we’ve always done them and see growth,” Davis urged. “We have to be creative and think outside the box.”

Davis pointed out that despite the fact that there is already a stage at the fairgrounds, the acoustics there are poor and there is no air conditioning. He noted that with the annual Cantaloupe Festival held at the fairgrounds, a portable stage with air conditioning and good ventilation would “take the festival to the next level.”

Davis told his fellow board members that he had just attended a festival in a neighboring state this past weekend which drew about 50,000 people. “We just need to do something to encourage people to come to these live events,” he said.

But Finance Chairman Doug Bowman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, noted, “We already have a stage at the fairgrounds, and I don’t think we need another one.”

The deadline for the application submission is Sept. 30. The Board has been advised of the strong demand for the economic development funds, which means the money could be tapped out by the time the county puts in its application.

In other action on Monday evening, supervisors approved an annual $20,500 fee for Code Red funding which over the past three years has been paid out of a federal grant that expired at the end of July. Code Red is an advance emergency warning system which alerts residents to severe threats from tornadoes, flooding, or other severe weather conditions. It also warns of incidents such as hazardous waste spills where residents need instant notification.

Emergency Services Coordinator Kirby Saunders told Board members that he would hate to see the county lose the capacity of the early warning system, which transmits information that potentially could save a person’s life.

Funding for the service must come from a supplemental appropriation since it was not included in the current year’s budget.

Another supplemental appropriation approved by the Board will fund Halifax County’s share ($30,604 over two years) of the Southern Virginia Marketing Effort.

The program is supported by Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to enhance economic development in Southern Virginia and includes participation by Patrick, Henry, Halifax and Pittsylvania counties, as well as the cities of Danville and Martinsville, all of whom are sharing in the cost.

“This program gives us the special opportunity to work as a region and offers us a pool of opportunities,” Sexton said.

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