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Fancy Gap a tourism hot spot

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Fancy Gap is the garden spot for business in Carroll — and it needs water to grow, said the county's business developer on Jan. 12.

Investment in both water and sewer could bring new jobs and businesses to Fancy Gap, as the Blue Ridge Parkway prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2010, Bernie Deck told the county supervisors at their regular meeting, as many Fancy Gap business and property owners watched from the audience.

Bringing new businesses to fill up empty buildings would be a much better way to welcome those celebrating the scenic road's anniversary to Carroll County, he said.

Even now, Fancy Gap contributes a significant portion of Carroll's revenue. Deck estimated that the 34 businesses from the parkway to the Interstate 77 area employ almost 80 people and represent a $10.4 million investment and $5.2 million in annual revenue.

Considering real estate, sales, meals, lodging and other taxes, the Fancy Gap area supplies about $170,000 in revenue to Carroll County's coffers.

In 2007, the Fancy Gap Magisterial District as a whole led the county in terms of dollar value of building permits issued, at around $10 million worth of construction.

And the area around the parkway continues to draw more interest, with an RV sales and service center on Chances Creek Road and a motor coach community on Frog Spur poised to bring in $2.2 million in investment, five jobs and $27,265 in new taxes, Deck said. "Which is in and of itself pretty amazing given the state of the economy and what's not going on in the rest of the world."

Should two new restaurants, a motel with 90 rooms and residential development with 60 homes locate in Fancy Gap, then he estimated that would result in an additional $9 million in capital improvements, 72 new employees at the eateries and motel and a total of $261,810 in tax revenue for the county.

That could mean a jump in county tax revenue from the Fancy Gap area to $314,075.

There are still other opportunities to bring business to the area, like getting new tenants for Michelle's Gift Gallery — recently closed due to retirement — Fancy Gap Trading Post, the defunct antique store and more. He said these have limited use due to the lack of water and sewer, but could be easily readapted with those services in place.

He pointed to photos of empty buildings on U.S. 52. With the Blue Ridge Parkway's 75th anniversary coming up next year, "I don't think this is the kind of picture that we want to portray to the governors and the rest of the people that will be, you know, helping to celebrate the parkway."

Citizen Steve Gregson had referred to this during citizens time earlier in the meeting. (See related story below.)

Fancy Gap would become a "focal point" due to those celebrations, he said. Fancy Gap needs to take advantage of the events and the interest in them.

"What better time to get the sewer and water hooked up and get those things going and be able to show the world a product that really frankly deserves it..." Gregson said.

He promised that the Fancy Gap community members involved are committed to moving the infrastructure projects forward.

Core business opportunities would include building on regional arts and crafts and antiques, recreational transportation and hospitality and retirement- and leisure-related housing, Deck said.

Deck summed up Fancy Gap as a strong business community that gets the highest tourist traffic in Carroll due to the interest in the parkway, a quaint mountain community with indisputably great natural beauty and good name recognition.

Unique to Fancy Gap is a major interstate exit in close proximity to the parkway — no other community in the state has that access, he said. It serves as gateway to Southwest Virginia and Carroll County.

The place is probably the premier county destination and a good "staging area" for festivals and motor coaches, vintage vehicles and motorcycles. An idea has been floated to put a motorcycle rest area there.

People want to seek out communities like this, Deck said. "It is truly a gem for Carroll County."

It's weaknesses stem from the lack of water and sewer infrastructure and lack of variety in its restaurant and retail offerings, he said.

Extending water and sewer services to the area would cost an estimated $8.466 million.

Assuming that the projects receive a total of $2 million in grants and loans for the balance at 2.75 percent interest over a 40 year term, there would be a $312,516 annual shortfall in revenue needed to pay for the systems, Deck estimated. But the new projected investment resulting in the $314,075 in taxes to the county would take care of that.

"We could about cover that gap from the infrastructure," he said.

Even just one fast food restaurant with 150 seats could generate $122,000 in revenue for Carroll.

On top of that, there are other ways to make up a shortfall — leveling impact fees or the county could subsidize.

"There's a lot of ways that gap can be filled," Deck said. "I think we've shown it can be filled relatively easily with simply incremental tax revenue..."

And the board has other options available to it, as well.

Considering these items, Deck made recommendations to the supervisors:

• evaluate the possible use of existing private wells and land to expedite a public system there and reduce costs;

• and on both water and sewer — identify funding strategies with the cooperation of the Industrial Development Authority, the Public Service Authority and the board of supervisors; submit loan and grant applications to Rural Development, the federal agency that funds many such utility projects; and submit the projects for bid as soon as possible to take advantage of the trend of lower construction bids.

Deck also encouraged the Fancy Gap stakeholders to go to the next step and create an economic steering committee, as well as a water and sewer committee and a tourism committee.

Next steps for Carroll County would be for officials to review plans, he said. Business development officials should continue to meet with the stakeholders.

County Administrator Gary Larrowe said that Fancy Gap has significant name recognition in the United States.

While Larrowe was traveling near the Nicaragua and Honduras border to get ice cream, an American came in the door. They got to talking and Larrowe explained he was from Southwest Virginia.

The man, who may have been from South Carolina, expressed his desire to move to a small community in that area — and that place turned out to be Fancy Gap.

"I just thought that was interesting that was there was a lot of people in and around the U.S. and other parts of the world that recognize Fancy Gap," he said. "It does truly have name recognition and it is a treasured place."

This effort in Fancy Gap proves that great people are doing great things in Carroll, Larrowe said.

Supervisor Manus McMillian made a motion to allow Deck to continue the work on the Fancy Gap effort.

The motion was approved unanimously after a second by Supervisor Andy Jackson.

Community plans for parkway anniversary events

HILLSVILLE — Tourism officials are brainstorming for 75th anniversary celebrations all along the Blue Ridge Parkway in 2010.

It's likely to be a "huge" and year-long effort, said Donnie Turner, Carroll's tourism director, who's been involved in that planning. There will be events at places like the Blue Ridge Music Center in the Twin Counties and Cumberland Knob in North Carolina, among others.

At the moment, there are all kinds of ideas going around. One of those ideas is to have the Virginia and North Carolina governors meet and participate in the celebrations.

Turner has encouraged businesses in Fancy Gap to prepare for the influx of visitors who are expected to attend parkway celebrations at the much-used entrance to the parkway near U.S. 52 and Interstate 77.

There are likely to be considerable goings-on in September 2010, because that's the time of year when ground was first broken for construction of the parkway.

There is quite a bit of potential for Carroll County to benefit — and indeed the whole Cascade Highlands area, the formal name for the regional Virginia-North Carolina tourism and promotional effort — he said.

"They're setting it up like it's going to be huge," Turner said about the anniversary planning.

Celebration planners will have a community meeting March 4 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Crossroads Institute in Galax to engage the public in the process.

"I hope the excitement builds," Turner said.