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'From a dream to reality': A look at the plan to transform CVTC site

View story at The News & Advance...In 25 years, a walk through the grounds of the former Central Virginia Training Center may include a view of townhomes, single-family houses, a village center area and a restaurant, among other attractions and amenities.

For Lynchburg area-officials, that would be a walk to remember and a dream come true.
The well-known line, “If you build it, they will come,” from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” for now is aimed at a buyer, most likely a developer or business entity, to make it happen. The recently unveiled Central Virginia Training Center Master Redevelopment Plan is the blueprint to achieve that outcome.
A look through the document, which is more than 200 pages, contains many grand ideas and possibilities that could give Madison Heights its version of a Wyndhurst or a Cornerstone, two examples of Lynchburg area developments with a mix of businesses and residential uses.

Amherst County officials are salivating at the idea of more growth.

“It’s our turn,” County Administrator Dean Rodgers said at a past county work session, referencing Lynchburg-area development funneling more towards Forest.

The timing also is ideal as the county currently is undergoing development of a master plan for the area of Madison Heights from the James River to the U.S. 29 and Virginia 130 intersection.

The closure of CVTC in 2020 and the steady exodus of employees in years leading up to it has been felt in a slight population decline in the most recent census and in the lost tax revenue the county’s one-time largest employer once generated. A business and residential community with hundreds of homes is preferable to the county than more than 90 buildings sitting vacant and deteriorating, officials have said.

The plan proposes a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood along the flat blufftops and ridgelines with surrounding forested ravines preserved and even enhanced with re-cultivated vegetation cover. The envisioned neighborhood includes an urban feel with a contiguous network of streets spread across the campus of more than 300 acres.

“This redevelopment is an opportunity to strengthen our region’s urban core,” said Megan Lucas, CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance. “However, we have a long way to go.”
Filling a void

According to a study done in October 2013, a year after former Gov. Bob McDonnell announced the closure of CVTC and three other of Virginia’s training centers over a 10-year period, CVTC at one time provided 1,639 full-time jobs, $53 million in labor income, $87 million in overall economic activity and state and local tax revenue of $3 million.

The first development on the property that would become the CVTC campus began in 1910 and the property originally was established as the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. From its founding, the campus’s facilities served as an asylum, a state hospital and training school and in 1983 was re-designated as the Central Virginia Training Center, becoming the commonwealth’s largest facility providing care for the disabled and mentally ill.

At the time of closure, only six of the 98 buildings on campus were in operation. Leading up to the closure those buildings supported 47 residents and jobs for 215 employees, according to the plan.

In recent years local stakeholders, including Amherst County’s government and economic development authority, invested just more than $480,000 for a redevelopment plan. HDR, Inc. was selected to create the plan and last November visited the area for a weeklong public input process.

The plan, according to the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, has market-driven data that led to forming a wide range of housing options, retail and commercial space, parks and open spaces, multi-use trails and a Funicular that traverses by track down the hillsides to connect to the regional trail network around the James River, among other attractions envisioned.

“The proposed neighborhood can become the new urban hub for Madison Heights and Amherst County, achieving the economic potential for the region as a new lifestyle center for residents and visitors alike,” the plan states.

Luke Towles, senior vice president of Pinnacle Financial Partners and chair of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance’s board, said redeveloping the CVTC site is a major initiative for the Lynchburg area.

“As a commercial banker, I want to be in a community that is growing and thriving,” Towles said. “This is a space that gives us an opportunity to build something unique to Lynchburg that we don’t currently have ... that brings in more viable business that will thrive in this region and continue to add amenities to Lynchburg that we don’t currently have.”

Key buildings with potential
While the majority of existing buildings on the CVTC campus were deemed unfavorable or not feasible for preservation, the plan proposes adaptive reuse of several buildings and key site features.

“Past use within the CVTC campus has left environmentally impacted areas across the property in need of remediation before redevelopment could occur,” the plan states. “Many of the on-site buildings, while having pleasing exterior facades of brick and colonial detailing, contain hazardous materials and confining layouts in their interiors that would restrict renovation.”

Once environmental remediation, demolition of many buildings and clearing the site for new construction is complete, about 110 acres is developable. Existing cemeteries should be preserved and memorialized appropriately, the plan states.

A village square area, an amphitheater and playground complex, a destination restaurant, boutique hotel, a senior living facility and a monument with a reclaimed cupola from the CVTC’s Bradford building, one of the most recognizable structures on the property, are among features envisioned.

A complex of buildings known as “The Farm” on the far west ridgeline of the site, have potential to become dynamic event space with a brewery, winery, distillery-type operation on site. Two water towers on site are “monumental icons within the landscape” and can easily be preserved with a garden-style park around their base with an adjacent parking lot for neighborhood trail users, establishing the site as a potential trailhead location.

The smokestack at the location of the former campus power plant is a prominent visual marker that can tie in with other features of the site.

“The redevelopment of the Training Center Site presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the plan states. “In addition to evaluating the long-term market potential for residential, retail, office, and industrial development, an implementation strategy is critical in order to turn the Master Plan into a reality.”

Looking ahead
Given its large land footprint and the complexity of existing facilities and utilities, demolition of most buildings, along with the preparation of the site for redevelopment, will be an immense process, according to the plan.

The General Assembly must hash out $25 million in outstanding debt on the property, which must be settled before any redevelopment can begin, according to the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance. The plan itself hinges on that money from the state coming through, according to a news release from the alliance.

Rodgers said with the redevelopment plan complete, it’s “all hands on deck to find the developers or corporate powerhouses that can put this prime real estate to its best use.”

“Now that we have this plan, the Alliance and our partners will double our efforts towards finding highly-qualified developers for the site who can take this plan from a dream to reality,” said Jamie Glass, director of economic development at the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance.

Amherst County officials plan to work on zoning the property in a way that allows mixed use development to occur. After the property is vacated and the current operator, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, declares it surplus the land will transition to the Department of General Services and be prepared for sale.

Supervisor Drew Wade, who represents the area of Madison Height where the redevelopment is hopeful to occur, said the plan is highly detailed and presents an opportunistic view of what could possibly be done while noting the hurdles to overcome.

Supervisor Jimmy Ayers also addressed the importance of new life coming to the CVTC grounds and transforming a place where so many residents made their living.

Ayers said of the plan: “Hopefully, we can pull together and see it come to fruition.”