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Authority takes out option on Exit 19 land

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

Potential job creation at the Wildwood Commerce Park has already served to leverage funds for water and sewer service at Interstate 77's Exit 19, and now Twin County officials are studying what Wildwood itself may become.

What kind of business or industry may locate there, how to set up utilities in the commerce park, its general layout and the land's highest and best use are questions that the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority seeks to answer through engineering work, according to the organization's director, Ken McFayden.

The authority has taken out an option — for one dollar — to buy 221 acres by August 2011 from owners Donald Branscome and Mike Turman.

Branscome and Turman have done extensive grading work to prepare around 1,400 acres at the exit for development, and Blue Ridge Crossroads EDA announced Friday in a press release that their study will build on those private efforts.

McFayden hopes the preliminary engineering report might be completed as soon as this week, and he hopes to apply for a grant relating to Wildwood's development next week.

The regional authority's plan involves seeking as much federal and state funding as possible to create the commerce park.

Branscome and Turman remain active participants in the effort, by providing easements for an access road and utility lines, McFayden's press release said.

The information found by the engineering report will better show the local officials what kind of development is possible at Wildwood, McFayden explained. Engineers will assess the costs to the authority and local governments of installing an access road, water and sewer lines, three-phase power, broadband Internet service, as well as soil compaction.

"I've learned the hard way through the years — wait for the engineering to tell you what's possible," he said.

This effort has ramped up since McFayden took the job as the director of the economic development authority.

Discussions between Carroll and Grayson counties and the City of Galax about each localities' responsibility for shouldering costs and splitting revenues are just getting started, McFayden said.

“Without the opportunity to create a public-private partnership, it is unlikely that we would seriously consider this project,” the press release quotes Mike Maynard, chairman of both the regional authority and the Grayson Board of Supervisors. “In addition, because Grayson County, Carroll County and the City of Galax, comprising the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority, may share in the potential revenues of such a project, this project is worth considering.”

Local officials would consider using a federal loan to pay for the development of a commerce park, with the expectation that the park would generate property and sales tax revenues to offset that loan.

Leaders of each of the three localities have been briefed on the project, according to the press release. Formal agreements signed by the localities have yet to be undertaken.

The economic development authority would manage the project.

This would fulfill the purpose of the regional authority, created to work on economic development that benefits the entire Twin Counties.

Ongoing projects include the Wired Road broadband effort and, according to the press release, the "most successful” Small Business Development Center in Virginia.

“It is the sharing of resources among our local governments to bring a project like this together that makes this possible,” said Galax Mayor C.M. Mitchell in the press release. “Individually, our local governments may lack the ability to pursue such a large project. But, working together, we can compete with larger communities to bring jobs, investments and the resulting local tax revenues to our region.”

“It is the consensus of the BRCEDA board — and I feel would be the same for each of our local governments’ elected boards — that we approach this project carefully and positively," said David Hutchins, chairman of the Carroll Board of Supervisors, in the press release. "State and federal grant funding is essential for this to happen. It is important for us to be able to work as a region to make something positive happen for our residents and businesses."

Local officials have shared these ideas with representatives from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and @Corridor, and have heard positive feedback, McFayden said.

There have been no discussions with any particular business at this point, he added. The possibilities remain wide open.

One of his thoughts, based on the proximity of the site to several universities, is that Wildwood could become a research park.

Local officials remain open and positive about finding the highest and best use for the site and creating good paying jobs there.

"We're not going to discount any opportunities that could conceivably go there" at Wildwood, McFayden said.