Vinton Town Council hears good economic news

128

VINTON–The Vinton Town Council meeting on April 5 was chock-full of good economic news.  Roanoke County Director of Economic Development Jill Loope and developer Dave McCormack briefed council on plans for maintaining the historic character and footprint of the old William Byrd High School while turning it into 7o market-rate one and two bedroom apartments.

At this point the plans include satisfying the Department of Historic Resources (DHR) by preserving the auditorium located on one end of the building while renovating the gymnasium on the other end into apartments. The classrooms will be remodeled into apartments while keeping the historic fabric of the original building. Drop ceilings added in the 1970’s will most likely be removed.

McCormack’s firm, Waukeshaw Development Inc., will purchase the building from the county for $10 and some substantial tax credits, and invest $9.2 million in the project.  Currently only the building on 6.4 acres at the top of the hill has been transferred for the project.

The acreage at the bottom of the hill where the ball fields are located may even be left untouched, but those plans are still up in the air.

McCormack said that he relishes projects such as this one where small towns are “bucking conventional wisdom and making what some might consider to be ‘impossible’ projects, work.”

Councilwoman Janet Scheid who had visited  projects in Bedford undertaken by Waukeshaw commented that she hoped there would be “economic spillover” to other areas of the town as there has been with McCormack’s other projects in Bedford.

McCormack replied that projects of this type tend to be “economic generators” which often result in “getting people to start to believe again.”

He named two issues which will be among the first to be considered in regards to the project—what preservations DHR will mandate and completion of a parking study for the site.

Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters added more good news in asking council to approve a resolution awarding a bid and authorizing Interim Town Manager Barry Thompson to execute a contract with TBS Construction LLC in the amount of $142,498 for renovations to the Farmers’ Market stage and roof. The town received three qualified bids for the project.

These improvements are part of the $700,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) awarded to the town by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in 2013. Those funds are designated for certain projects in the downtown area and cannot be used for other projects in Vinton, such as road improvements.

“The bid package included a base bid component consisting of the main stage and roof expansion and two alternative bid items to include curb and other hardscaping and sign relocation across the street and within the parking lot of the Farmers’ Market area,” said Peters. “Both town staff and Hill Studio were pleased by the response of the contractors interest in the project and especially pleased by the narrow range between the low and high bids being only $8500.”

Conceptual drawing of Vinton Farmers' Market after improvements funded by the CDBG grant.
Conceptual drawing of Vinton Farmers’ Market after improvements funded by the CDBG grant.

Peters said that of the initial $700,000 grant, $149,000 remains for the stage renovations; $74,000 for façade improvements; $74,000 for the Revolving Loan Program; and $14,500 for grant administration and closeout.

In addition, the town has budgeted $35,000 as part of a required match which will be used to replace park benches and trash receptacles, to replace exterior lighting at the front common area of the Town Hall; interior way-finding signs to direct patrons to downtown amenities, and additional repairs to the Farmers’ Market pavilion and stalls.

Peters told council that the staff believes that many of the desired enhancements identified within the alternative bids could be better accomplished by using in-house labor and transitional use of landscaping in lieu of the hardscapes designed in the bid package.

“Given the available grant funds remaining for completion of the remaining aspects of the downtown grant, staff would like to respectfully request that council accept only the base bid of $142,498 from TBS Construction to focus on the stage renovation and not pursue the streetscape and sign alternative bid items through this particular contact,” said Peters.

Peters plans for all the improvements to be complete by Labor Day in advance of the September 30 deadline for the project.

He informed council that he believes that the entire $100,000 in revolving loans set aside in the project will be applied for and used. He also estimates that at least five businesses will make use of the façade grants which are also part of the project.

Peters also asked council to appropriate $4000 received from a VML Insurance Programs Risk Management Safety Grant for safety improvements to the Gish Mill property. Those safety and security measures included covering exposed windows and doors to prevent unwanted entry into the building, installation of chain link fencing to prevent unwanted entry to the rear or underneath the building, and fabrication and installation of low water dam signs to inform passersby of the potential for danger during high water events.

Special Programs Director Mary Beth Layman added her own good news—AARP has donated $1600 for matching funds for the SNAP/EBT program at the Vinton Farmers’ Market. Additional funding from another source in the amount of $2500 is also expected. Both will be used to enable families to purchase fresh, healthy produce.

Planning and Zoning Director Anita McMillan briefed council on Roanoke County’s proposal to donate (dedicate) an 80 foot wide easement to the town so that Phase 2 of the Glade Creek Greenway project can be completed.  A second reading of the proposal is scheduled for the Board of Supervisors meeting next week.

She also urged council to adopt resolutions which will result in Roanoke County taking over the cumbersome administration of the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Program (VESCP) and the Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) from the town.

Council recognized Chief Jeff Dudley for serving as Vinton’s Interim Police Chief while the search for Chief Thomas Foster was underway. Scheid and Councilman Doug Adams thanked him for his role in hiring the new chief.

Proclamations were read concerning National Child Abuse Prevention Month, National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, and the Mayor’s Day of National Service.

In a work session prior to the scheduled meeting, Beth Doughty from the Roanoke Valley Regional Partnership briefed council on the work of her organization during the past year and noted that the unemployment rate was down to 3.8 percent in the Roanoke area at the end of 2015.