Gypsy Hill Place proves Staunton gets it

Some communities (ahem, Waynesboro) look at an old, empty building and see something that ought to be torn down to make way for progress. Staunton, to its everlasting credit, sees potential in the form of dollar signs.

“This is another case where a landmark building is going to get an adaptive reuse in a very thoughtful, very well-planned, very well-financed way that will serve a great number of people, and will serve a great number of age groups,” said Staunton City Councilman Bruce Elder Thursday night at the formal announcement of the $20.4 million renovation of the old Robert E. Lee High School on Churchville Avenue into a mixed-use adult-living community and commercial space to be known as Gypsy Hill Place.

In addition to those uses, ShenanArts will relocate its children’s theater program to the location, which most recently had been the home of the private Guardian Angel Academy. Talk about a win-win. “This helps both ends of our population and makes us truly an inclusive city. So many cities are opting for one direction or another, and this city, we’re working to the benefit of everybody,” Elder said.

The Charlottesville-based Octagon Partners is leading the redevelopment effort. The bulk of the money being used to get the work started is coming in the form of $12 million in New Market Tax Credits being made available through Hampton Roads Ventures. Long-time observers of the Waynesboro government scene might remember Hampton Roads Ventures. The Wayne Theatre Alliance had been working with HRV in 2005 on a deal that would have led to the infusion of millions of dollars of New Market Tax Credits into the redevelopment of the historic downtown theatre before a divided Waynesboro City Council nixed the deal.

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is no stranger to these kinds of development efforts. As mayor of Richmond, he was a key player in the capital city’s revitalization in the 1990s. Kaine, who was in Staunton Thursday for the Gypsy Hill Place announcement, thinks localities that engage in redevelopment efforts like Gypsy Hill Place get a lot of bang for the bucks that are invested.

“When you build new, you usually have to build new infrastructure, like utilities or roads, to get to the new buildings. But when you renovate existing buildings, the infrastructure is already there. So it’s cost-efficient, and it also helps stop sprawl if you can use existing infrastructure,” Kaine said.

Or you can put all of your development eggs in a new basket in a part of town that isn’t equipped infrastructure-wise to handle extra traffic and water runoff and the rest and take your chances. Staunton’s way of doing it does seem to make more sense, of course.

 

Story by Chris Graham

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