officials see ‘unique opportunity’ on training center site | Virginia News

By RACHAEL SMITH, News and Advance

MADISON HEIGHTS, Va. (AP) — What some people once thought was impossible has turned out to be possible with the removal of $25 million in bonds for the Central Virginia Training Center.

The process – which state and local officials hope will pave the way for the redevelopment of the 350-acre property that served residents with disabilities until the center closed in 2020 – will take place by October.

The state’s biennial fiscal year 2023-24 budget, which the General Assembly approved on June 1, included a request from Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, to relieve all outstanding obligations associated with the center of training.

The Madison Heights property, across the James River from downtown Lynchburg, is currently owned by a state agency and will be transferred to another state agency, which may execute a sale of the site a once the bonds are paid.

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Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers said more than 3,000 residents were once housed at the center and the center accounted for a quarter of all jobs in the county.

When he was hired eight years ago, he knew the training center would be a top priority.

“Senator Newman has been with us from the very beginning. Now we’ve talked about these $25 million bonds, but there was $800,000 acquired early on for environmental studies and another $4 million for cleanup,” Rogers said. “And so he has been at the top of this site from the very beginning, not only bringing forces together in Richmond, but also our other delegates and other representatives. And so it was a big effort behind the scenes.

Newman championed the cancellation of the bonds on the center and was a major supporter of the redevelopment plan. Defeasance is a term related to all methods by which an outstanding bond issue can be canceled, legally and financially, by the state.

“God told us to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” he said. “It was those people, and now they’ve been moved into communities, and we still love them, and this community and the workers here who loved those people and cared for those people for almost 100 years. And we are grateful for that. But once that time passed, it was time for us to get together as a delegation with Megan (Lucas, CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance) to do something different with this property.

He said that when developed, it will be one of the most prosperous lands in central Virginia and it will be a beautiful community.

Lucas said the master redevelopment plan for the Central Virginia Training Center telescopes a vision that will expand the area’s vibrant urban core with the potential to connect a twin community between Madison Heights and the city of Lynchburg.

“Overlooking the James River and downtown Lynchburg, the redevelopment site will be a prime location to attract capital investment and talent, enhancing our region’s urban core,” she said. “We are trying to create a unique space in the Lynchburg area where people who want to live in a denser core and businesses who want to locate in a dense urban core have that opportunity. We believe this redevelopment plan is a bold move that will be vital to the region as we attract a workforce that will drive economic growth and success for decades to come.

Although the plan is still in its infancy, it will be the guideline that will guide policy makers, developers and stakeholders towards a preferred future for the site. And much depends on the cancellation of the $25 million in outstanding bonds currently held by the Commonwealth, she said.

The slow closure of the training center began in 2012, when the then government. Bob McDonnell was told the training center, along with four others in the state, had to be closed due to a settlement with the US Department of Justice, which was seeking to have residents in smaller community homes instead than in larger institutions.

In 2015, the Amherst County Board of Supervisors contacted the Amherst County Economic Development Authority and asked them to partner with the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance to chart a way forward.

In 2020, the Central Virginia Training Center closed, and in 2022 the redevelopment master plan was completed for the center.

“Our region has a unique opportunity. We can create a vision for this site that can change the future of our region. It’s in our hands,” Lucas said. “The plan is both practical and ambitious. This is a key element and the ongoing creation of a vibrant urban core, which we know is key to attracting both young and seasoned talent and businesses of all sizes.

The Alliance was the catalyst for advancing the vision for the site and creating a redevelopment plan to achieve it, bringing together many partners who helped make the redevelopment a reality, she said.

“The plan offers a variety of housing options to suit all needs and tastes, a beautiful central location for shopping and dining, and an urban yet walkable layout considering both nature and nature. geography of the location,” she said. “Creating this urban lifestyle is especially critical in cities that compete for creative, tech-savvy people and businesses (whose) talent fuels much of the job creation and growth (in) our country today.”

She added that there were two cemeteries on the site, both owned by the Commonwealth, which will continue to be responsible for these cemeteries.

“People who have relatives there will still be able to come and visit them as they wish, and there is no other plan,” she said.

Although the redevelopment plan was the first of many hurdles, stakeholders were acutely aware of the ongoing obligations on the property and their potential effect on the sale and future redevelopment of the site.

In April, when the redevelopment plan was released, Lucas said the outstanding bonds, combined with the site’s dilapidated buildings and infrastructure, made the property almost worthless for development.

“Senator Newman’s unwavering support of our region, his vision, his integrity and his leadership got us here today, our region’s champion helped get over the biggest, biggest hurdle we have for this site , the removal of $25 million and outstanding bonds,” Lucas said.

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Milton S. Rodgers