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Fries in choice location

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

FRIES — A market study of the potential development of the old Washington Mills site on the New River in Fries indicates that the location is within 150 miles of 9.2 million people and 314,000 college students.

The study was done by K.W. Poore & Associates of Richmond and is part of the town's Revitalization Master Plan, which calls for significant improvements in downtown Fries and on the mill site.

The town started the venture in 2007, and most recently the land was turned over to the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority (BRCEDA) to help market the site to any prospective developers.

Now, BRCEDA is ready to accept proposals for a qualified developer interested in the site. The town's master plan calls for the development of a lodge, restaurant and retail opportunities, as well as outdoor recreation/adventure facilities on the 13.3-acre site.

The request for bids requires proposals for a minimum of $6 million in construction on the site, but costs could approach $18 million if all envisioned facilities are built according to a financial feasibility analysis assembled by K.W. Poore.

Potential annual revenue of more than $6 million is projected for the site's facilities if fully developed.

According to the market study done on the property, 1.5 million people already visit the New River Tail State Park that runs through the town and the various musical events and festivals in Galax and the Twin Counties each year.

"Add in those reported to be engaged in camping, trail activities, fishing, bicycling and water sports within 150 miles of Fries and the potential market grows to nearly 9 million people," BRCEDA said in a news release.

Leadership from Fries and representatives of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (VDHCD) have been working since fall 2008 on fleshing out the details for the site and preparing needed documents. K.W. Poore & Associates and Anderson & Associates were brought on board to help market the property.

VDHCD also assisted Fries with a grant to cover the cost of clearing the site and has made available planning funds and money for additional site work and utility improvements.

It was also noted that a project on the site would be eligible for New Market Tax Credits, which provides tax credits to investors of 39 percent over seven years.

Additionally, the release said the project would be eligible for the Rural Development Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program.

"BRCEDA's hope is that the unique opportunity at Fries and the availability of these incentives should help move the project forward even in these tough economic times."

Fries Town Council Members received a copy of the press release at their regular meeting Feb. 3.

Vice Mayor Nancy Hawks said, "It is interesting to see that this market could reach 9 million people... even in these tough times, we can hope there are still developers out there with money to invest. The tax credit over seven years should be incentive."

OPPORTUNITY FOR DEVELOPERS

While the deadline for developers is May 31 to submit proposals, an exclusive preview of the opportunity for investors in the region will be held Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. at the Crossroads Institute.

At this event, prospective investors and/or developers will hear a presentation on the property site, to include the town's master plan. In addition, a representative from USDA's Business Services unit will be on hand to discuss the possibility of federally guaranteed loans, etc.

BRCEDA's engineering firm and partners from local and state agencies who have been involved in the project will also be available for questions.

Through Virginia's Department of Housing and Community Development, Appalachian Regional Commission, the Virginia Tobacco Commission and the Town of Fries, $1.5 million has been invested in preparing the mill site for development. Additional funding is available to assist in completing the site preparation.

BRCEDA noted the "extraordinary opportunity" for local entrepreneurs and investors to be among the first to see and hear about the exciting opportunity.

• Anyone interested in attending should contact Neal Satterwhite at (276) 236-0435.

All documents related to the Fries-Washington Mills Redevelopment Project, including the full request for proposals, are available on K.W. Poore & Associate's Web site at www.KWPoore.com under Projects/Economic Development/Fries. The deadline for proposals is May 31.