Economic impacts from tourism in the Lynchburg region exceeded $500 million in 2015, according to a report from the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

The tourism industry employed about 5,334 people in the city of Lynchburg and counties of Nelson, Campbell, Bedford, Amherst and Appomattox. The industry also generated more than $17 million in local taxes for the area last year.

The data, released in September, represents estimates of direct spending by visitors from at least 50 miles away, including food, accommodations, auto transportation, public transportation, incidental purchases, entertainment and recreation, according to VTC.

Region generated more than $500 dollars in 2015
Reporter: Margaret Carmel
Lynchburg News & Advance
October 14, 2016

 

 

The city of Lynchburg and Nelson County combined saw total spending from visitors nearly $370 million, with $176,856,705 and $190,973,532, respectively. Bedford County came in third for the region with $101,015,681. All three localities have seen growth in tourism dollars spent of more than 10 percent since 2011.

According to Sergei Troubepzkoy, director of Lynchburg’s Regional Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, much of the city’s growth comes from sporting events and conferences being held in Lynchburg.

“Lynchburg is in a great location to attract statewide conferences because [organizers] like picking communities that are centrally located,” he said. “Getting some events like the Commonwealth Games has certainly helped.”

Troubepzkoy also pointed to the revitalization of the downtown area as a draw for tourists, both first-time visitors and people who have not visited in a long time.

“We consistently hear that [visitors] are surprised by what they see,” he said. “There has been so much change in such a short amount of time. One thing we hear consistently is how impressed with what they’re seeing they are, particularly with the downtown area. I think that’s helping to grab their attention.”

As opposed to the growing downtown area and development surrounding Liberty University that attracts visitors to Lynchburg, Nelson’s growth has come from tourists seeking outdoor recreation and natural beauty.

“We are known for our pristine landscapes, craft food and beverages, and we are known as a destination for lifestyle music events,” said Maureen Kelley, director of tourism and economic development for Nelson County.

Part of the Brew Ridge Beer Trail passes through Nelson, which guides beer enthusiasts to several breweries throughout the county. Nelson also has hosted the Lock’n music festival since 2013, which brings thousands of music enthusiasts to Arrington for several days of music.

Beginning in 2006, Nelson County started laying the groundwork to grow their tourism industry, Kelley said.

 “We’ve been really working on making sure the businesses who come here thrive and can expand, she said. “We’re seeing the fruits of our labor from all of that work.”

With tourist attractions like the Appomattox Court House and the Peaks of Otter and the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford in surrounding counties where hotel rooms are scarcer, many visitors to the region stay in Lynchburg in order to visit the neighboring localities, Troubepzkoy said.

Hotel occupancy rates in Lynchburg have remained steady at 59 percent in a year-over-year comparison between August 2016 and August 2015 in data collected by STR Inc., a travel research firm. The study also found the average price paid for a hotel room has risen slightly over the same time period.

Despite the steady occupancy rate, Troubepzkoy said this is a positive indication due to the construction of several hotels in the past year.

“We’ve been increasing the number of rooms, but our occupancy is staying the same, so we’re building occupancy,” he said. “Even though we’re constantly building rooms, we have no problem selling those rooms.”

The increase in regional tourism comes amid a statewide increase in tourism spending, which saw an increase from $19.2 billion in 2008 to $22.9 billion in 2015. According to VTC, tourism spending contributed $1.6 billion in state and local taxes for Virginia in 2015.

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For more than a year, a large gold-and-black sign advertising the Rosedale development has stood alone in a large open tract of land on Graves Mill Road, near the intersection of Old Graves Mill Road in Lynchburg.

The proposed 62-acre, mixed-use development is planned to include a mix of office space, nature trails, dining, a hotel, shopping and about 135 residential units. After City Council voted late Tuesday to enter into a performance agreement with the developer to fund $5.9 million in roadwork necessary for the project’s completion, Rosedale is moving ahead.

According to the developers, the bidding process for the construction of the main road through the property will begin in the next two months. They expect groundbreaking to begin during the spring or early summer of 2017. Upon completion, the roadwill be turned over to the city. Dick Schoew, president of Hopkins Brothers, the developers behind the project, praised City Council on Wednesday for its support.

 “What the city did for us last night put us in a position to grow our project,” Schoew said. “That piece of land out there is not just going to fill up with knock-off kind of development. We’ve got time to do the thing right and to do something pretty substantial with it.”

Schoew said the next step for the development will be to secure contracts for a boutique hotel with 80 to 90 rooms, an upscale restaurant and a microbrewery he said would be similar to Devils Backbone.

Rosedale project moves forward
Reporter: Margaret Carmel
Lynchburg News & Advance
October 13, 2016

 

 

The 6-1 vote to fund the road construction was preceded by a heated discussion between council members in favor of the deal and Councilman Jeff Helgeson, who voted against it.

“There is nothing about this that I like,” Helgeson said during the meeting Tuesday night. “This is $5.8 million you cannot cut from our heavy tax burden on our citizens. It’s not money we can give to our firefighters or our teachers because we’re going to give it to these guys so they can build a driveway into their property.”

Councilman Randy Nelson countered with the argument developers are under much stricter regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation and need assistance to undertake large projects.

“All of the requirements that the city expects its projects to have included in there, that didn’t used to be the case, make it extremely difficult for any developer to take upon themselves the financial expenses of any large project,” Nelson said.

Money reimbursed to Hopkins Brothers for the construction of the road will come from tax revenue raised by the Rosedale property and the adjacent Bella Rose Plantation and Events Center during the course of 15 years, according to the performance agreement. Up until the first $3 million is paid out, the city will reimburse Hopkins Brothers 75 percent of annual tax revenue, and from that point onward, the city will return 55 percent of the collected tax revenue. This will continue up until the cap of $5,879,794 is reached or the 15-year agreement comes to an end.

Helgeson said the agreement is not in line with what the city and developer had discussed in 2014, when City Council rezoned the land.”I see this as a deal that has changed so drastically when it was put to us as a council two years ago,” he said. “It wasn’t a decade ago when development was so different; it was two years ago. Two years ago, you said you were going to [build the road]. I don’t think it’s the city taxpayer’s responsibility to make up for poor financial projections.”

In September 2014, City Council laid out its criteria for participation in such an agreement. Council’s Finance Committee said the new road would have to provide connectivity to Breeze wood Drive, and the city would provide no more than a 50 percent reimbursement for the hard costs of the road and reimburse the developer for 10 years.

According to meeting documents about the agreement, the developer originally asked for a cap of $8 million for the road construction, but city staff recommended a lower amount. Nelson lobbied for the higher cap Tuesday, citing inflation and shifting federal loan rates over time that could raise costs.

“Projecting the cost of a project that is going to be completed years and years from now to say that $5.9 million is a reasonable cap is to ignore what can and will happen,” he said. “I don’t want to approve a project and put an artificial cap on it that may not be realistic given a changing economy and have to pour money into this because we got the developer to build it at minimum quality.”

 When Councilwoman Mary Jane Dolan made a motion to keep the cap at $5.9 million, Helgeson abstained in the vote because he thought it was a “dumb motion.” Council members are not allowed to abstain from a vote unless they have a conflict of interest or the abstention has been approved by the board.

When Councilman Turner Perrow called his abstention “a cop out” and pressed Helgeson to “hit yes or no,” Helgeson replied he “wasn’t voting because you’re an a–,” and said Perrow should “stop getting in a hissy fit like a schoolgirl.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Perrow chose not to comment on the interaction.

On Tuesday, Perrow emphasized the importance of having connectivity from Rosedale to a large piece of land behind it, referred to as the Skinner tract, and the potential for future connectivity to Breezewood Drive.

“This is a road that connects through this project that unlocks other pieces of land,” Perrow said. “This is a road that we very well could be paying for ourselves, and this is a good way to finance a project for something we desire to have.”

According to a project timeline included in meeting documents, developers have been in talks with the city over funding for road improvements both within the proposed development and on Graves Mill Road since 2012. Originally, the developers approached the city and requested they build a road and turn signal in exchange for a donation of the right-of-way. The turn signal was not discussed as part of the approved agreement.

In 2014, City Council approved a conditional use permit and the rezoning of 42 acres off Graves Mill Road just past Home Depot to allow the project. The following year, City Council approved a conditional use permit that amended the earlier conditional use permit and the rezoning of about 27 acres that was not included in the previous rezoning.

This arrangement resembles the performance agreement between the developers of The Virginian hotel and the city, for a total of $5 million in gap financing for the project.

 

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Lynchburg City Council voted 6-1 to approve a performance agreement with the developers of the Rosedale project off of Graves Mill Road, with Councilman Jeff Helgeson the sole vote against the agreement.

As per the recommendation of City Manager Bonnie Svrcek, the city will reimburse Golden Mile LLC, the owners of the property, 100 percent of the costs of building the main road through the development up to a cap of $5.9 million.

The funds for the reimbursement will come directly from new tax revenues generated by the Rosedale development and the adjacent Bella Rose Plantation beginning Jan. 1, 2017. The developer will be reimbursed 75 percent of the revenues up until $3 million is paid out and then will be reimbursed 55 percent of revenue from there up until the cap of $5,879,794 is reached.

Region generated more than $500 dollars in 2015
Reporter: Margaret Carmel 
Lynchburg News & Advance 
October 12, 2016

 

 

In September 2014, City Council laid out its criteria for participation in such an agreement. City Council’s Finance Committee said it would require no more than 50 percent reimbursement for the hard costs of the road, connectivity to Breezewood Drive and only would reimburse the developer for 10 years.

According to a project timeline included in meeting documents, the developers have been in talks with the city over funding for road improvements both within the proposed development and on Graves Mill Road since 2012. Originally, the developers approached the city and requested they build a road and turn signal in exchange for a donation of the right-of-way.

In 2014, City Council approved a conditional use permit and the rezoning of 42 acres off Graves Mill Road just past Home Depot to allow the project. The following year, City Council approved a conditional use permit that amended the earlier conditional use permit and the rezoning of about 27 acres that was not included in the previous rezoning.

The agreement is between the city; Golden Mile LLC, the owner of the Rosedale development; Bella Rose Plantation LLC, a historic home used for weddings and events on the property; and the Lynchburg Economic Development Authority.

This agreement resembles the arrangement for a total of $5 million loaned to the developers of the Virginian hotel project on Church Street by the city for gap financing in 2015.

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