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Water park, foster home find support, but mired in uncertainty

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Fries Town Council and economic developers both like a plan for the old mill site, but neither can agree on who makes next move.

By PATRICK SMITH and SHAINA STOCKTON
FRIES — A Fries resident, backed by support from Fries Town Council, is seeking to locate a potential business at the town’s old Washington Mill property.
Catrinna Shupe, who approached council members in December 2013 with her vision for “Kiddie Cats Cove” — a combined water park and children’s foster home — visited the board again at the Jan. 14 meeting to give an update on her progress.
Last month, Shupe shared details about the potential non-profit, which received positive feedback from council members. Her idea for the park stemmed from a desire to save children with troubled home lives — particularly those who have parents suffering from drug addictions.
The building, she explained, would double as a daycare center to help with funding. The water park would be open to the public, offering locals a new pool and a place for family activities.
Council encouraged her to proceed with her plan by meeting with Ken McFadyen, director of the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority (BRCEDA), which is the current owner of the property.
“I met with Ken McFadyen the week after I came and got your blessing,” Shupe told council on Jan. 14. “He applauded my business, and thought it was great. He said that, with your blessing, then this is a go for filing paperwork.”
Contrary to what the council believed in December, McFadyen told Shupe that he was not the one who needed to make the final decision for her request. “He said that you would have to make an amendment to the original makeup.”
Council disagreed with McFadyen’s statement, standing by their original understanding that, as the property is no longer owned by the town, the ball was in BRCEDA’s court.
McFadyen spoke to The Gazette on Dec. 18, and confirmed his meeting with Shupe the week before. “Regardless of where she locates, I was impressed with her plan,” he said.
At that time, the idea had not been presented to the BRCEDA board, because no official offer had been made. “We don’t have the discretion folks may think we have. It’s predicated on the Fries master plan, and what the state agrees with to be developed on those properties,” he said in regard to the old cotton mill property.
The state provided the most funding for the properties, meaning that grant conditions must be met when considering local buyers’ offers for the property. Therefore, what the state expects is really the deciding factor, he told The Gazette.
The site has been a private investment to create tax revenue and job creation for Fries. The town had requested that the mill site be transferred to the town’s ownership.
“We’re just trying to be good stewards for the property on behalf of the town and also the grant funds to buy and develop those properties,” McFadyen said.
“After our expenses are met for managing the properties, the net proceeds are called program income and can only be used for grant-eligible activities to benefit the town such as benefitting water, sewer systems or economic development projects,” he said.
If the town receives state grant funds, it is required to use the money for grant-eligible activities. “We want these properties developed to benefit Fries and to meet the town’s satisfaction.”
The next step will be to continue to look for grants, he said.
At this time, no other offers have been received for the property. Should an offer be received, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Galax would consult with Fries Town Council to see if it conforms with state expectations.
After that, Shupe would need to work with a realtor, McFadyen said.
“It all boils down to if the proposed project fits with state inspection. When the BRCEDA board receives an offer, we will discuss it.”
At the January meeting, council members and Shupe agreed to table the idea until they could speak with McFadyen further about the issue, because they were still unsure about the next step. “I think it’s admirable what you are doing... but we would like to meet and see where this is coming from [before we continue,” said council member Marie Isom.
Fries Town Council was set to meet Tuesday night, and could further discuss the matter.