Wildwood could get $3.8 million

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Regional commerce park recommended to receive a grant from tobacco commission

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE —  Work at Wildwood may gain momentum with a request for a grant before the Virginia Tobacco Commission receiving support in two preliminary reviews.
Ken McFadyen of the Blue Ridge Crossroads Economic Development Authority appeared before the county board at its regular December meeting, giving updates on economic development efforts. He noted that a sizable grant now for site development has the backing both of the tobacco commission staff and the Special Projects Commission.
The regional economic development authority, known as BRCEDA for short, sought a grant of $6 million for site development for the commerce park to be located just off Interstate 77’s Exit 19. It appears the tobacco commission supports granting $3.8 million of that request.
“We have — albeit still tentative — exciting news,” McFadyen said after arriving from the tobacco commission the same day, explaining the outcome. “This follows a million dollar grant earlier this year by the tobacco commission to the project for site acquisition.”
“I am  just elated about the news,” reacted County Administrator Gary Larrowe. “We’ve been working very hard in making that happen.
“To be able to get the largest allocation in Southwest Virginia for that project is monumental,” he said.
Economic development officials continue to wait on a $500,000 grant application submitted to the Appalachian Regional Commission for water and sewer development.
“I think today’s news is a very strong step forward in bringing the Wildwood Commerce Park to fruition and the full commission will meet in January to approve this recommendation.” McFadyen explained.
He added that he’d like to have the final grant announcement to share, but these recommendations continue to show good progress.
BRCEDA, which represents Galax, Carroll and Grayson in economic development endeavors, continues to act as a team to benefit the region, McFadyen said. Though he’s worked in local government for around a dozen years, this group works the hardest he’s seen.
“As I’ve mentioned somewhat humorously sometimes, I just have to hold on and keep up,” he said. “It’s a very exciting atmosphere.”
Supervisor Manus McMillian asked what the grant could be used for if it comes in.
This is specifically for site development, McFadyen answered. The access road has a budget estimate of about $1.2 million.
“We have met with the [Virginia] Department of Transportation. We have a good shot at $500,000 working with them.”
This tobacco commission grant would include money for the road, plus water and sewer service, if granted. “We would extend five miles of fiber [optic lines] to the site.”
There’s no money for site grading in the recommendation, but getting this grant can open more doors with the tobacco commission, McFadyen said.
“With receiving a recommendation for this particular round, should we make the final cut in January with the full commission, we will then be eligible for three subsequent years of funding availability,” the economic developer explained. “That’s upwards of $36 million” in potential funding.
Money is stacking up for this project, Larrowe said. “We’re trying to make things happen so we will have some prosperity in the future.”
The tobacco commission staff recommendation notes that BRCEDA’s request for funds is meant to cover $1.73 million in engineering and related costs, construction of a main 5,135-foot access road for $610,000, water and sewer utilities next to the road for $135,000, five miles of three-phase electric power service and fiber at $550,000, an additional retention pond at $150,000, grading of an 11-acre pad for more than $2 million and $800,000 for erosion and sediment control.
The road would also serve a 72-acre graded pad to be retained by the private land owners.
Total project cost is $12.8 million with other funds potentially coming from VDOT, ARC, the Department of Housing and Community Development for water and sewer extensions and the localities.
“The grading of an 11-acre pad for more than $2 million seems to be a lower priority given the current readiness this grant would provide for the 72-acre privately-owned pad and the 50-acre graded pad that will be acquired by BRCEDA,” the commission staff noted in its recommendation.
The previous $1 million tobacco commission grant will go towards BRCEDA’s $6.25 million land purchase, the staff notes. Officials intend to execute an existing purchase option in February 2011.
State officials see potential in Wildwood, the staff wrote. “The site has long been viewed by [Virginia Economic Development Partnership] as a strong candidate for attracting significant employment and investment projects, and the applicants have provided supplemental info that shows the ability to place million-square-foot buildings on two pads [one existing pad, and one to be developed in future phases].”
The private land owners have agreed to provide about $1.2 million toward the access road, a sewer bore under Interstate 77 and other costs, the staff noted.
Looking at comparable sites in Southwest Virginia, BRCEDA officials have estimated that 400 workers could be employed at the site, with a private investment of more than $250 million, the staff said. Planned future work would grade 117 acres and acquire another 223 acres, now under a first-right-of-refusal agreement.
Potential industries at Wildwood include wood products, automotive parts, food processing and information technology.
“Future phase costs total $42 million for additional property [$2.8 million], grading [$35 million] and related costs,” the staff notes say.
Staff recommended $3.8 million for the site work, not to include the request for money for the grading of the 11 acres. This is contingent on BRCEDA successfully acquiring the 167 acres on the property.