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Local, state officials looking ahead to 'unique opportunity' with CVTC site

View story at The News & Advance...What some people once thought might be impossible has been proven possible with the removal of $25 million in bonds for the Central Virginia Training Center.
The process — which state and local officials hope will clear the way to redevelop the 350-acre property that served residents with disabilities until the center closed in 2020 — will take place between now and October.

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

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

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

He knew when he was hired eight years ago the training center would be a top priority.
“Senator Newman has been with us from the very beginning. Now we 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’s been on top of this site from the very beginning, not just marshaling forces in Richmond, but also our other delegates and other representatives. And so it’s been a great effort behind the scenes.”

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

“God told us to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves,” he said Wednesday. “These were those people, and now they have been moved into communities, and we still love them and this community and the workers here that loved these people and took care of these people for nearly 100 years. And we are grateful for that. But when that time passed, it was time for us to come together as a delegation with Megan [Lucas, CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance] to actually do something different with this property.”

He said once developed it will be one of the most successful pieces of land in Central Virginia and will be a beautiful community.

Lucas said the Central Virginia Training Center Master Redevelopment Plan is telescoping a vision that will expand the region’s vibrant urban core with the potential of connecting a twin community between Madison Heights and the city of Lynchburg.

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

Although the plan is in the beginning stages, it will be the directive that guides policymakers, developers and stakeholders toward a preferred future of the site. And it all significantly hinges on the defeasement of the $25 million in outstanding bonds currently owned by the commonwealth, she said.

The slow closure of the training center began in 2012, when then-Gov. Bob McDonnell was notified the training center, along with four others around the state needed to be closed due to a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which sought to have residents in smaller, community-based homes rather than larger institutions.

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

In 2020, the Central Virginia Training Center closed, and in 2022 the master redevelopment 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 is in our hands,” Lucas said. “The plan is both practical and aspirational. It is a key piece and the continued creation of a vibrant urban core, which we know is critical to attracting both young and seasoned talent and businesses of all sizes.”

The Alliance has been the catalyst for progressing the vision of the site and creating a plan for redevelopment to make that happen, convening many partners who helped make the redevelopment a reality, she said.

“The plan features diverse housing options to fit all needs and tastes, a beautiful and central location for shopping and dining and an urban but walkable layout considering both the nature and geography of the location,” she said. “Creating this urban lifestyle is particularly critical in cities that compete for tech-savvy, creative people and businesses [whose] talents are fueling much of the job creation and growth [in] our country today.”

She added there are two cemeteries on the site, both owned by the commonwealth, which will continue to be responsible for those cemeteries.

“Individuals who have loved ones there will always be able to come and visit them as they so wish, and there are no plans otherwise,” she said.

Although the redevelopment plan was the first of many hurdles, stakeholders were keenly aware of the outstanding bonds 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 blighted buildings and infrastructure of the site, made the property nearly worthless for development.
“Senator Newman’s unwavering support of our region, his vision, his integrity, and his leadership has brought us here today, the champion for our region has helped clear the largest, the highest hurdle that we have for this site, the defeasement of $25 million and outstanding bonds,” Lucas said.