The atmosphere at Vinton Town Council during its meeting on July 17 was one of exhilaration as members spoke glowingly of the tour of economic development sites they had visited prior to the meeting.
Council members and several members of the town staff car pooled to three construction sites in Vinton which are near completion— the former William Byrd High School apartments, Macado’s restaurant, and the Lancerlot Sports Complex. Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters had been asked by council to facilitate the tour “to simply provide council with a visual update on the progress being made.”
The first stop on the tour was the William Byrd apartments where they were greeted by Dave McCormack of Waukeshaw Development. Beginning with the auditorium, he walked them through the former high school, pointing out the progress that has been made in a very short time since demolition and renovations began in July 2017.
The auditorium is being preserved to satisfy the Department of Historic Resources. McCormack said that under DHR guidelines he was required to retain either the auditorium or the gymnasium. Asbestos abatement has been completed in the auditorium and the ceiling patched. He said that about half of the stage will be made into apartments.
McCormack stated that next week the construction crew will be roughing in the electrical system. Once that is complete, they will be able to close up the walls and install sheetrock. He said that they hope to begin the leasing process of by the end of this year and open the building around March 2019.
McCormack explained the many challenges in meeting codes in rehabilitating a historic structure but that they have “cleared the hurdles and are going 100 miles an hour” on the project.
The most impressive part of the tour was of the gymnasium area that is being renovated into two levels of apartments, totaling 20 units. The gym apartments will have their own entrances— one leading to a community patio-type area in back of the building.
The tour concluded in the annex area, which McCormack said formerly resembled a dungeon when renovations began to turn the building into two levels of apartments. The alleyway between the main building and annex will be torn up within the next two weeks and several weeks will be spent in making improvements.
There will be 84 apartments when the renovations are complete. The original plan was for 85 apartments, but one involving the boiler room became impossible to complete.
McCormack said that the apartments will be mainly one-bedroom units, renting for approximately $950 to $975 a month, all inclusive.
He plans to work with the town on continuing to stage events such as the carnival during the Dogwood Festival on the field below— saying it’s part of the experience people interested in living in the historic building will relish.
The next stop on the tour was the former Vinton Library on Washington Avenue that is being renovated into a Macado’s restaurant. Owner Richard Macher guided this leg of the tour, beginning on the outdoor patio, which boasts an impressive fireplace with some historic elements. The outdoor area will include ceiling fans, distinctive lighting, and ceiling TVs.
Three garage-type doors provide entrance to the bar and restaurant where there will be handcrafted booths by their master carpenter, high-topped tables, ceiling TVs, and an onyx countertop lit from below.
A tin ceiling will be installed in the bar area as well, reclaimed from a Woolworth’s store in Kingsport and estimated to be 100 years old.
There will be mobile seating in the restaurant to adjust for groups of various sizes. The Vinton Macado’s will be able to seat up to 150 patrons.
The plans for the old meeting room are still up in the air with the possibility of renovating it into a fun area for children.
Macher projects the opening of the restaurant to be late September or early October. He is proud that most of the work on renovating the building has been completed by local contractors and sub-contractors.
The final stop on the tour was the Lancerlot Sports Complex where the tour was led by Jason Pollard, Pam Haskins, and Joe Miller, representing Penalty Box Partners. Pollard said that the Lancerlot includes 85,000 square feet of space with three floors in the fitness area and basically three buildings. Buildings two and three have now been connected during the renovations to extend the ice rink and house the ice-resurfacing machine.
Pollard said this project has been “five or six years in the making,” but is well worth the effort to bring a second sheet of ice back to the Valley especially with the Lancerlot’s rich hockey history. The fitness and aquatic centers, with memberships, are a bonus that will bring additional revenues to the facility.
He told guests on the tour that before the renovations began the Lancerlot had 724 members. That number has now increased to 1,090. Membership rates have been lowered during the construction process but will be adjusted once renovations are complete with several packages offered.
While the major push at this time is on completing the hockey rink, the remainder of what Pollard says was a building “a little tired and in a little disrepair,” has been spruced up with new paint and signage, a relocated reception desk, new lighting and flooring. Some of the racquetball/handball courts have been transformed into cardio, spin, and Nautilus spaces. Their goals have been to “clean up, modernize, and make the facility safe.”
Several tenants still have offices on the second floor. The third floor houses Gator Boxing and Grappling Sports, a Child Watch area, offices, a banquet hall for 350, and catering kitchen.
The humidity has been lowered by 35 percent in the indoor pool are and new ventilation installed. The outdoor pool has been painted and new furniture added.
Haskins said that the budget has been focused on rebuilding the ice hockey rink in the area where the gymnasiums and walking track were located for a mid-September opening.
Several foundational layers of the floor are in place for the ice. Glycol tubing is now being installed and will be fed by a huge outdoor storage tank. The ice— about an inch in depth— will be the final step in the process.
The ice resurfacing machine, an Olympia owned by the Boston Bruins, was delivered on July 17. General Manager Joe Miller says that it cut the ice for the Stanley Cup playoffs in its past life.
Seven locker rooms have been constructed on the lower level, including one for Virginia Tech hockey. There are administrative offices above for the Rail Yard Dawgs professional ice hockey team who will use the Lancerlot as a practice facility.
Pollard said they eventually hope to have not just concessions, but a full restaurant onsite to accommodate the many different guests who will be visiting the building— not just for the professional hockey, but for youth programs.
The spirits of council were bolstered by the tour. Vice Mayor Keith Liles said that all the economic development activity will make Vinton “a go-to town, not a go-through town.”
Mayor Brad Grose commented that Vinton occupies 3.2 square miles with 8,200 residents and is mostly built-out, so the choice for the town is to renovate and rebuild already existing properties— which these three projects accomplish.
Councilman Mike Stovall said that it is “endless what we can do for this town” through projects such as these.