Creating Possibilities In A Former Factory

Creating Possibilities In A Former Factory

THE ADVANCEMENT FOUNDATION is proposing to develop an Ag-Food Technology Business Development and Innovation Center in the Mundet-Hermetite building in Buena Vista. The factory building has been vacant the past five years.

Ag/Food, Development Center Planned

The group behind The Gauntlet business startup competitions has plans for a business venture of its own in the Mundet-Hermetite factory building in Buena Vista.

The Advancement Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes entrepreneurship and business development in southcentral and southwest Virginia, has an option to purchase the building and turn it into a business development community center that would feature multiple uses.

“We help start and grow businesses,” said Annette Patterson, president of TAF, during a presentation to Buena Vista City Council last week. “We bring resources together [and] into communities.”

Patterson talked about transforming the factory building at 245 W. 21st St. that’s been vacant the past five years into an Ag-Food Technology Business Development and Innovation Center.

A focus would be on agricultural food technology, she said, connecting “innovative entrepreneurs, farmers, valueadded product developers with tools, technologies and expertise to improve capacity, sustainability, efficiency and economic vitality in the ag/food industries.”

The center would feature small-scale manufacturing/processing, an educational component, business incubation/ acceleration and community development. The proposal also includes housing – 10 loft-style apartments are planned in a portion of the building.

Patterson noted that Gavin Fox, a local entrepreneur and educator, had proposed a business incubator-accelerator type facility a little over a year ago – plans that didn’t come to fruition. Since then, TAF has been in talks with the property owner and Buena Vista economic development officials about these latest plans. Various state and federal agencies have been approached about possible grants to help fund the plans.

She said TAF hopes to close on the purchase of the building in late April. She’s already in discussions, she said, with a drone company that is interested in leasing space. “A lot of amazing things are lining up,” she remarked. “People are coming together and really want to see something happen.”

The location, alongside Buena Vista’s floodwall riverwalk and the Maury River, would lend itself to an outdoor recreation component, Patterson suggested. She envisions having a cafe, retail space for products being made at the center and artisans from the community displaying their work. “We can create a dynamic space,” she said.

“We want to offer a centralized location for small-scale processors,” she continued. “Buena Vista is wonderfully positioned to reach across the Shenandoah Valley and connect to the Roanoke Valley. There’s a lot of interest [among many different entities] in being engaged with this project.”

TAF has a similar business community center in Vinton, albeit on a smaller scale, said Patterson, in response to a question from City Council member Steve Webb.

Key partners and potential collaborators, she said, might be the Virginia Housing Development Authority, the

United States Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Go Virginia, Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and other institutions of higher learning in the region.

Tom Roberts, Buena Vista’s director of community and economic development, said he found the possibilities of the project “incredibly exciting. The real vibrancy of cities is the people with new ideas who start businesses. One could be the next Munters. We can bring together and cultivate people who are already here. This is a regional project. Multiple state agencies are behind this project – they’re rooting for Buena Vista.”

Vice Mayor Cheryl Hickman asked if any city funds were being requested. No, said both Roberts and Patterson, TAF would be responsible for providing matching funds for potential grants.

When Fox presented his plans to the city last year, he requested and got a rezoning for the property to mixed use. For TAF’s plans to move forward, conditional use permits for housing and small-scale processing would have to be approved. The Planning Commission and City Council will consider these in coming weeks.

“Every locality around here would like to have something like this happening,” commented City Manager Jason Tyree.

The News-Gazette

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