VINTON–At long last a developer has been found for the former William Byrd High School in Vinton. The announcement was made at the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors meeting on March 22.
The board adopted the sale of contract and development agreement and authorized the County Administrator to execute the contract between Roanoke County, the Roanoke County Economic Development Authority, and Waukeshaw Development Inc.
Jill Loope, Economic Development Director for the county, told the board that she was excited about all of the economic development opportunities being announced in the region this week. The mood of those from Vinton who attended the meeting to hear the announcement was almost jubilant.
Waukeshaw proposes to purchase and redevelop the facility into a mixed-use residential development. The project includes more than 70 one and two bedroom market-rate apartments. The company will acquire the property from the county for $10, but will make an investment of approximately $9.2 million in its development.
The former high school was built in 1930 and used for educational and vocational training until 2010. Board Chair Jason Peters said that the building has stood vacant since then and served as a storage building for surplus school equipment for several years.
The main building is two stories occupying 62,760 square feet. The annex building has an additional 6,980 square feet. The property also includes 6.494 acres, within walking distance of downtown Vinton.
Loope said that the three-party performance agreement has been negotiated to assist Waukeshaw with complex site and building redevelopment and infrastructure-related costs. The county will submit an application to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) to pre-determine whether the building is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
The agreement allows for the sale of the property for $10 and an economic development grant equal to 10 years of new local tax revenue—not exceeding $1 million over a ten year period, beginning on January 2018. If the development generates less than that amount, the actual grant will be less.
Dave McCormack, president of Waukeshaw, which is located in Petersburg, presented an overview of projects his company has been involved with.
He states on their website that, “We like to find opportunity in quirky places–places that other people aren’t paying that much attention to, but obviously have a lot of potential.”
According to McCormack, by 2016 Waukeshaw will have completed more than $70 million in historic redevelopment projects throughout Virginia, most in small towns. All of their projects are market-rate offerings when completed and follow the guidelines of the DHR and the National Park Service.
McCormack says that “Waukeshaw seeks out interesting, game-changing projects in challenging locales, often working closely with municipalities to further their economic development efforts.”
The company works to attract traditional bank financing, seek grants and other incentives, and work with a team of architects, CPAs, and legal and historic consultants to qualify for state and federal historic tax credits.
McCormack said that once the project is begun, it will take approximately 14 months to complete.
He said that there are challenges at the William Byrd site, as in all buildings of its type, possibly with asbestos issues, lead paint, leaking oil tanks, limited parking, and the like. He commented that school buildings such as this are expensive to develop because of the need to preserve the historic nature of the building to qualify for tax credits. DHR requires developers to stay within the footprint of the original building.
“Developers can’t just knock down the walls and start again,” said McCormack. “You can’t touch the façade and windows except to get back to the original.”
Waukeshaw plans to take the building back to its “historic shell,” to what it looked like in the early 1900’s when it was first built.
He takes as his purpose accentuating the history and telling the story of the building and also catalyzing economic development in an area. He said that when the facility was examined apartments were the “most financeable choice for the property.”
In his overview of similar projects, one slide illustrated the quality of the apartments constructed at a similar school in Hopewell, Virginia, with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, and high end cabinetry.
When asked why he chose the Vinton project, McCormack said that Loope was the one who led him to project. When she showed him through the building, he said “it just fit—it checked lots of boxes” for him and he came up with a business plan for “a beautiful project in a beautiful town.”
He also said that often one project in a town leads to other projects judging from his experiences in Petersburg, Martinsville, Hopewell, and other locations in the eastern part of the state. This will be Waukeshaw’s first venture this far west in the commonwealth.
McCormack said that with Roanoke nearby, the firm plans to hire local contractors and subcontractors as much as possible. Sometimes in dealing with projects in small towns there are a limited number of contractors nearby, but that is not the case in Vinton.
As for Vinton’s part in the project, Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters and Planning and Zoning Director Anita McMillan anticipate a request for rezoning the property depending upon details of the project.
Part of the contract stipulates that the county will be a co-applicant with Waukeshaw in applying for rezoning which “remains under the legislative discretion of the Town of Vinton.” The “density and unit mix” of the proposed apartments will be determined in part by the town’s zoning requirements.
Chairman Jason Peters said that he hopes the building will return to being the “Jewel on the Hill.”
Supervisor Al Bedrosian spoke in favor of the project saying that he “loves to get rid of government properties” and return them to the private sector.
In describing the possible tenants of the apartments, McCormack said that while these will not be luxury apartments and will most likely rent for around $800/month, they are of high quality and will most likely appeal to both “millenials” and retirees, who, he said, often have similar interests.
In other business involving Vinton, the board began the meeting with a very lengthy and detailed discussion of broadband services. County Administrator Tom Gates presented amendments to the Proposed Fiscal Year 2017-2026 Capital Improvement Program which will factor in 25 miles of broadband coverage to selected sites in the county at an approximate cost of $3.41 million. In Vinton that will involve primarily the Vinton Business Park, and the Municipal Building and library in downtown Vinton.
The board approved moving to a second reading an ordinance accepting $10,000 from the William Byrd High School activity fund for the architectural and engineering fees (A & E) for the WBHS locker room project.
The supervisors also authorized the granting of a Greenway easement on property owned by the county for the purpose of completing the Glade Creek Greenway project in the Vinton district.
An ordinance was approved conveying the Roland E. Cook building to Old School Partners, LLC, now that DHR approval has been gained for the project. On March 17, the Virginia DHR added the school to the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Where does Waukeshaw Development Inc. get its name?
Waukeshaw Development Inc. has just signed a contract with Roanoke County and the Roanoke County Economic Development Authority to redevelop the old William Byrd High School in Vinton.
When asked how the company was named, its president Dave McCormack responded:
“Just as I was getting started in the development business many years ago I was looking at an old warehouse in Petersburg and went around back. There, covered in vines and old junk, was this huge old generator–the kind that would have been used in a factory of some kind. You could look at it and see the immense power this engine once provided, but it had been cast off and ignored for so many years. The guy who owned the warehouse was a little kooky — everyone thought he was nuts–but he insisted he was going to refurbish that generator and bring it back to life. It seemed like an incredible metaphor for these small towns scattered across the country — they were once powerful engines, and the vines just needed to stripped away to get them going again. When I searched for the label, I saw the manufacturer’s name: ‘Waukesha.’ You may have heard of that small town in Wisconsin. I simply added a ‘w’ at the end to give it a bit of symmetry.”
So that’s the story.