By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
On Tuesday June 4th, the Greene County Economic Development Authority (EDA) held a public forum to receive citizen feedback regarding the location of the Tourism center. Currently located in 500 Square feet of rented space next door to the Blue Ridge Café, the EDA is exploring a purchase option of a large vacant home on the south side of Route 29 just north of Route 33. After the forum, the EDA endorsed the purchase option and made a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.
The issue brought out a standing room only crowd to the County Administration building with supporters on both sides of the issue. Some people opposing the acquisition of property, brought “STOP” signs and it was the lead story on WVIR-TV Channel 29 that evening.
EDA Chairman Michael Payne outlined the purpose of the meeting which was to hear a presentation from Director Alan Yost, then hear from the public and finally make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to either 1) purchase the property on Route 29, 2) to not purchase the property on Route 29 or 3) not recommend either.
In his presentation, Alan Yost covered why tourism is important to Greene County and that the tax revenue has grown six-fold over the past five years. Yost indicated if the EDA purchases the building, they will still have enough funds to annually support other marketing efforts in Greene County as noted below the graph above. By state code, 3% of tourism tax revenue must to be dedicated to advertising and promotion.
Concerns regarding the current tourism center include the location is difficult to find and, when the restaurant is busy, finding parking is difficult. The current location is small and has limited display space and so attractions must be rotated quarterly. Also, space limitations precludes selling Greene County products from paintings, pottery, wine, etc.
The proposed building is the first building when you are heading south on Route 29 coming into Ruckersville. According to Yost the building properly represents Greene County’s desired brand identity. It is an older home on an acre of land with a view of the Blue Ridge in the background.
Yost also addressed the concern that the building is in poor shape. The EDA has worked with the owner to have it fully inspected and it has no major problems. Yost also went over that no county tax revenue will be used for the purchase of this property but will be fully funded by revenue from the EDA.
The final piece of Yost’s presentation was an email that he received a couple weeks ago from a member of the Taylor family who built the home in 1939. They fully supported the adaptive reuse of their previous home for a visitor center and requests that the county keep the structure.
The meeting then switched to comments from the public which 15 citizens addressed the EDA where 11 were in support and 4 speakers were against the project. Those that spoke in favor of the project pointed to keeping the cost of the project off the citizens of Greene, owning a building is better than renting, the cost to develop a comparable structure would cost significantly more and finally they recommended that the EDA have the option to sell the property if they were to receive a significant offer in the future.
Other speakers talked about the setting is a rural feel with room for visitors to have a picnic and enjoy the view. Another citizen suggested that some of the space might be used for a satellite police station or rescue squad.
Those who opposed the project raised revenue issues and it would generate more tax revenue if it was commercially developed. Also, with the county having a $6 million shortfall in the last budget cycle requiring a significant tax increase why should the county go in debt for another $1 million? One speaker spoke “tongue in check” about the great view from the building of……Lowes and Walmart.
Payne asked Yost to address any of the issues the citizens brought up. He pointed out that while this would keep this parcel from being developed it has been on the market for years and there is over 250 developable acres in the Ruckersville area.
Yost also stated that the visitor center is one of five ways the county markets itself – the others being a website, an electronic calendar of events in Greene, social media accounts and brochures and maps.
That closed the public portion of the meeting and the EDA discussed how to proceed in their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Secretary/Treasurer Don Pamenter said he started off against the project for three reasons. First, he was concerned about the cost of the mortgage where the market was in the 6% range. Yost was able to get a proposal for a USDA mortgage for 4.25% with no payment for the first year.
The second concern Mr. Pamenter had was how much would have to be spent in repairs. After a tour of the facility with a structural engineer giving a good report and what the current owner has done to update the facility, he was comfortable with the structure. The third issue was there going to be any funds left for other marketing efforts in Greene and he now understands that there will be funds available comparable to several years ago.
Other comments from members of the authority included agreeing that the EDA would want to have the option to sell the property if a good offer was received. Another member felt the building and location presents a great physical image at the entrance to the county. Finally, another member of the EDA was glad that the deal to sell to a fast food chain fell through and she sees great potential for the building and there is plenty of other properly zoned Ruckersville property.
The EDA then voted unanimously to recommend to the Greene County Board of Supervisors to purchase the property for use as a visitor center.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at http://www.freeenterpriseforum.org
Photo Credit: NBC29