Center, Mill projects could be ‘catalysts’ for Waynesboro

Special Report by Chris Graham

Three years and more than $3 million of architectural and environmental work in the bag, the developer of the Mill at South River project is waiting to see which of several irons in the fire will heat up first.

It could very well be an effort to land a Center for Coldwaters Restoration in Waynesboro that gets things moving at the 40-acre Mill. The Center has passed the first hurdle for a $1 million congressional appropriation in the fiscal-year 2011 federal-budget cycle. The federal money would jumpstart the development of infrastructure at the Center, which is being proposed as a fish hatchery and research facility with potential partners including James Madison University, UVa. and Virginia Tech.

“If we get that appropriation, that would give us the momentum to go look for other sources of funding to get the Center up and running,” said environmental engineer Urbie Nash, a spearhead to the Center for Coldwaters Restoration effort.

And that momentum could in turn push activity at the Mill at South River, where Winchester-based developer Beverly Shoemaker has been working on plans for a $45 million repurposing of the old Crompton Shenandoah plant into a mixed-use office, commercial and residential development.

“We’re trying to identify which piece is going to break out first, and we’re encouraging all of them to break out first. But we haven’t gotten there yet,” said Michael Bryan, an attorney for South River Inc., Shoemaker’s development company.

The site is currently home to the South River Complex, an amalgam of warehouses and spaces used by a mix of artisans including metalcrafters, glass-blowers, potters, sculptors and steeplemakers.

“What we’re trying to do is marry what we think will come here with what we have here,” Bryan said. “What we have in place now is unique to the site, so we’re trying not to forget that. We’ve got so many parts that are moving, and we’re trying to get them to move together.”

The Center for Coldwaters Restoration could be an important “catalyst” for the Mill development, Bryan said.

“We’d really like to see that come here, because we think it will be a catalyst to drawing other research facilities here,” Bryan said.

The Center, in turn, could be a catalyst for broader economic-development activity city- and region-wide, said Len Poulin, a downtown business and property owner and the president of Waynesboro Downtown Development Inc.

“You can look at this as a natural-resource incubator,” said Poulin, thinking of the facility as a catalyst to research activity beginning in the public sector and moving to the private sector with applications that could have impact worldwide.

“Not only will we be providing a place for university researchers to do their studies, so we’re vending space to them, but we’re also vending space to the private researchers that can have ready-made access to quality lab space,” Poulin said. “It’s the old adage of, If you build it, they will come. If it has the infrastructure that they need, then you would start incubating activity from that.”

The residual impact on Waynesboro and the surrounding area could be of a transformational nature. “You start bringing in PhD’s and start giving them access to grants through (the National Institutes of Health) and other sources, and next thing you know, they’re starting to build a new business climate,” Poulin said.

“You’ve got to have the ecosystem. You’ve got to have the enablers there, the fertile ground. And the fertile ground includes access to PhD’s, access to the natural resources, access to the technologies that these resource agencies use. And then you tie in things like accountants and lawyers and banks and grants and so forth, and from that you let people’s imaginations do the rest.”

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