By Debbie Adams
While members of Vinton Town Council addressed some sobering issues related to COVID-19 at their meeting on April 7, there was some heartening news as well: a buyer has been found to redevelop the historic Gish’s Mill and the town’s grant application for housing rehabilitation to a downtown neighborhood to the tune of $1.5 million is ready for submission.
Landscape architect and president of Hill Studios, David Hill, who was part of the team who successfully redeveloped Roland E. Cook School into apartments, has teamed up with David Trinkle (former vice mayor of Roanoke, restaurateur, developer, and doctor) as Gish Mill Davii, LLC, to purchase the Gish’s Mill property on Gus Nicks Boulevard.
The town purchased the 1.154 acres of property in November 2015 because of its historical significance to the community and the town’s charter in 1884 and the desire to preserve and rehabilitate the property for commercial use. The 14,000-square-foot structure was a former gristmill, and farm supply retail and warehouse (Holdren’s Country Store) and had been operated continuously since the 1770s. The mill is so iconic to the town that it is featured on the Town Seal.
Since 2015, the town has completed environmental assessments, initiated a historic review necessary for Virginia Landmark and National Register of Historic Place designations, and established a conceptual plan with public input.
The town issued Requests for Proposals in November 2019 and received a proposal from Gish Mill Davii, LLC to convert the historic property into a mixed-use development to include a small restaurant, hospitality (five rental rooms with an Airbnb model), a basement speakeasy (for tasting spirits), and a local retail operation with locally sourced products—similar to a country store.
The redevelopment project will utilize historic tax credits to accomplish the redevelopment with an expected investment of approximately $2 million and the creation of about 42 jobs.
The contract—which council approved at the meeting on April 7 after a public hearing—is subject to several terms during a nine-month due diligence period. This includes negotiating terms for a performance agreement with the town and Roanoke County in the form of development incentive grants, applying for an Industrial Revitalization Fund grant ($600,000), successfully securing historic designations to access historic tax credits, and securing necessary private financing and historic grant funding, prior to closing on the property in late 2020 or early 2021.
The town purchased the property for $125,000 when the Holdren family retired after operating the establishment for over 30 years. That sum will be counted as a match for the town in the grant funding process. The developers will purchase the property from the town for $10.
David Trinkle, who established the Fork in the Alley and Fork in the City restaurants, will be the restaurant tenant himself, leasing back the space from the corporation.
Assistant Town Manager/Economic Development Director Pete Peters expects $918,000 in gross revenue and $157,000 in annual taxes generated.
Peters and Hill made a presentation to council on the complex project, which they explained is “challenging” but has the potential to offer a unique dining, hospitality, and shopping experience. Architectural renderings were displayed but are still being revised.
Peters said that 40-50 parking spaces are planned, but the business will also be accessible from the nearby Glade Creek Greenway via a signalized crosswalk from the Billy Byrd apartment complex across Gus Nicks Boulevard.
Hill said that he believes the timing is right for the venture given the current leadership in Vinton and the need to begin preservation efforts on the “incredibly important” historic site. “We will give it all we’ve got.”
Council members were unanimous in their praise for Hill (“we’re in good hands with a proven developer”) and the project at a major gateway into the town.
After over two years of diligent efforts by town staff, council adopted a resolution authorizing Town Manager Barry Thompson to submit a 2020 Community Development Block Grant application, which– if received– will provide substantial funding for the Cedar Avenue and West Cleveland Avenue Housing and Community Infrastructure Rehabilitation Project.
At the minimum, the proposal will include:
- Housing rehabilitation for eight homes, including both owner-occupied and investor-owned units
- Acquisition and demolition of properties in the floodplain and relocation of affected residents
- Infrastructure improvements to water, sewer, and flood drainage facilities
- Infrastructure improvements to ADA accessible pedestrian facilities (sidewalks)
- Blight removal of two properties
The project involves not only the $1.5 million in CDBG funding from the grant, but $1.3 million from non-CDBG funding to include an Investor-Owner Match, a SERCAP Grant (water), VDEM Pre-Disaster Mitigation funds, and Town of Vinton spending on water delivery systems, street improvements, and water/drainage/streets.
The application is due by April 24. Grants will be awarded in late summer. A contract will be signed in late December. Project implementation will get underway in January 2021 with completion expected by December 2022.
The grant project had its beginnings in a strategic planning meeting by Town Council over two years ago when members expressed a desire to do something for the homeowners and residents of the town after the completion of the downtown revitalization project in the general business district.
The town received a grant of $3,000 to conduct a windshield survey of several downtown residential neighborhoods to pinpoint areas for rehabilitation. They received an additional DHCD planning grant of $27,000 to prepare for the construction grant application with the assistance of Janet Jonas from Summit Design and Engineering.
Last fall the management team—made up of town staff, town council representatives, project consultants, and citizens of Vinton—narrowed the focus of the project to the Cleveland and Cedar Avenue area. Pete Peters, who has headed up the project, hopes it can expand to other neighborhoods with more grant funding later on.
In other business, council adopted resolutions setting real estate, personal property, and machinery and tool tax rates for calendar year 2020. All rates remain the same although real estate revenues are going up due to an increase of 3.13 percent in assessed value.
Real estate rates are 7 cents per $100 of assessed value; personal property rates remain $1 per $100 of assessed evaluation (50 cents per $100 for disabled veterans). Personal property tax relief was also adopted.
In consideration of the financial impact on residents of the COVID-19 coronavirus, council created a 30-day grace period for payment of tangible personal property taxes “during which time citizens will not be charged penalties or interest from untimely tax payments.” In normal times, personal property taxes are due on June 1.
The town will maintain the current due date but provide financial relief for citizens unable to pay their bill by that date due to loss of job or income resulting from the governor’s executive order due to the COVID-19 crisis. Taxes not paid by July 1, 2020, will be subject to penalty and interest.
After the COVID-19 disaster ends, the town will adopt an ordinance rescinding the 30-day grace period.
No grace period was adopted for real estate taxes.
Council voted to provide emergency funding for replacement of the Health Department building roof.
Treasurer/Finance Director Anne Cantrell spoke about the great financial situation the town had been experiencing a mere month ago. Now the town is “facing some tough decisions.”
Council adopted a resolution approving and confirming the Declaration of Local Emergency from March 16 and adopted an ordinance ensuring continuity of operations for up to six months. Discussions are underway for how to handle upcoming town council meetings.
Town Council members and staff (limited to 10) practiced social distancing and held the meeting at the Vinton War Memorial.