A longtime resident of Old Town Madison Heights, Calvin Carson sees future redevelopment of the Central Virginia Training Center campus as a destination for retirees.
A retirement center, among other uses on the CVTC grounds, is a potential draw Carson believes could make the Lynchburg region attractive for many in areas such as Northern Virginia looking for a change of scenery.
“That’s what sells,” Carson, who lives a mile from the site, said. “They’re tired of crime, tired of the big city, tired of traffic. They would love to come to a place like this.”
A flow of ideas from area residents on the future of the CVTC property emerged during a weeklong series of “pin-up” sessions the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance held Nov. 9 through Nov. 13. The feedback steered designs for redevelopment of the roughly 350-acre state-run facility on Colony Road in Madison Heights that recently closed as a center for residents with disabilities.
Megan Lucas, CEO of the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, told a group of about a dozen residents gathered at the alliance’s office in Lynchburg during one of the brainstorming sessions, it’s vital to determine the highest and best use of the site supported by reliable market data for a sound, realistic vision. Securing future uses for the CVTC site is a priority for connecting to Lynchburg’s urban hub and spurring economic activity as opposed to leaving a ghost town of more than 90 unused buildings that cause blight and crime, according to Lucas.
A redevelopment plan effort is underway involving Nebraska-based HDR, Inc. A team of designers traveled to Lynchburg for the weeklong sessions, toured the CVTC site and crafted six design schemes that by Nov. 13 narrowed to a single one with public feedback.
Bisson, a project manager with HDR, said the campus has 90 to 100 acres that are developable.
“It’s an incredibly complex and challenging site,” Bisson said during a call with area business leaders on the planning efforts. “It’s truly a one-of-a-kind site and a phenomenal site. We balance the vision with the realities for the site.”
HDR began working on the redevelopment plan in May, a month after the final resident at CVTC was relocated, and has done much behind-the-scenes work, according to Bisson.
Caitlin Johnson, project manager with SB Friedman Development Advisors, a Chicago-based firm, gave a market assessment briefing of the campus posted on the master plan’s official website, adding the redevelopment is a “once in a generation” effort. She said the Wyndhurst and Cornerstone communities in the Lynchburg area are examples of mixed-use traditional neighborhood development designs that could potentially fit in with the property.
Single-family detached homes, townhomes, multifamily housing and apartments along with retail development, professional office space and light industrial are among uses envisioned for the site, according to the analysis.
“The site may be attractive for medical office users in the future,” Johnson said. “It has potential for smaller-scale professional office development.”
The Lynchburg region has grown by more than 50,000 people, mostly in the city of Lynchburg and Bedford County, during the past 20 years and the local economy is shifting away from industrial to more professional and office space uses, according to the analysis.
The CVTC site has potential for up to 100,000 square feet of retail space, up to 120,000 square feet of office space and up to 150,000 square feet of light manufacturing space, depending on available land, Johnson said.
Bisson said a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use neighborhood with a town center is part of the overall concept. Demolishing buildings on the site and installing a new utility system is a huge cost investment for potential developers in getting a mixed-use community off the ground, he said.
A village center with shops, dining opportunities, coffee houses and attractions such a grocery store are ways to draw more traffic into the site and a second entrance from Virginia 210 is part of the concept, according to a design presented during a session. Bisson said HDR feels prime spots within the site are suitable for pocket neighborhoods.
“That’s where the demand currently is,” Bisson said of multifamily housing, which attracts retail. “We want this to be a neighborhood where you have this vast diversity of residents living within it. When you provide multiple entrance points for housing you begin accommodating that.”
Walking trails and a vibrant street system also are envisioned.
“They want to be in walkable neighborhoods,” Bisson said, referring to national chains.
A barn structure on the site has potential for conversion into a brewery or winery, Bisson said. A small amphitheater, a boutique hotel and a plaza area enclosed by townhomes also are possible features, according to the design plans.
Another major focus is using the nearby river and finding ways to directly connect the site to downtown Lynchburg with ideas such as a ski lift or zip line.
“As the crow flies, it’s incredibly close,” Bisson said of downtown Lynchburg, which he added is worth celebrating.
Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers said the county’s average age is 49 and a common complaint is a lack of senior housing options. Lucas said Lynchburg’s average age is 29.
“It accommodates all stages of life within a close proximity,” Bisson said of housing options that draw in seniors and younger residents.
The plan will be marketed for potential developers and eventually will come before the Amherst County Board of Supervisors, according to Lucas.
Carson said the CVTC grounds, where he previously worked for more than two decades, has potential to become a retirement center similar to Westminster Cantebury in Lynchburg with a mix of other uses. He said he favors a small private school on site and keeping some buildings that provided medical care.
“You already have those nursing home buildings there,” Carson said. “Why not use them?”
Carson said he wrote down in his notes during the session: “Danville’s got the casino. What could we have to draw people in?”
“You’ve got to make it attractive for people to come,” Carson said.
Jim Thompson, a member of the Amherst County Planning Commission, said the site is in the county’s “gateway” just off U.S. 29 Business. Viewing the design plan, he said he likes the idea of future development at CVTC drawing in young professionals and including a YMCA or similar offering for families.
“It’s got to take on its own character,” Thompson said.
The plan is going to take years to come to fruition, he said. At its peak CVTC employed 1,600 people and was an economic engine for Amherst County and the region, leaving a massive void in jobs area officials and business leaders are working to refill. The redevelopment plan is not an immediate fix and will take time to come fruition, Lucas said.
“You’ve got to look at it beyond COVID-19,” Thompson said of fiscal pressures from the current pandemic. “It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Jennifer Moore, who represents southern Madison Heights on the Amherst County Board of Supervisors, said she likes the feel of Wyndhurst and feels safe walking around that community.
“We need something like this in Madison Heights,” Moore said.
Michael Bryant, who also serves on the county’s planning commission, said successful redevelopment of CVTC benefits the Old Town Madison Heights community he feels a deep connection with.
“This would be beneficial to the county,” Bryant said. “It would really open us up.”
A self-described “river rat,” Bryant said he is all for more access to the James River.
Moore said she favors ideas that allow the community to come together such as the amphitheater, walking trails and parks.
“The possibility of housing that accommodates young individuals, families and the opportunity to provide independent and assisted living options on the site also are appealing,” Moore said.
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