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Blacksburg Town Council votes open door for new downtown building

Blacksburg Town Council votes open door for new downtown building

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BLACKSBURG — The Blacksburg Town Council, via several votes Tuesday night, gave the green light to a Virginia Tech Foundation project that will give downtown its tallest building ever.

The project calls for the construction of a six-story building on an existing shopping center property set among Prices Ford Road and Turner, Gilbert and North Main streets.

The building will be close to 100 feet tall, significantly exceeding the general 60-foot structure height limit in Blacksburg’s downtown commercial district.

The building’s height will be allowed under a conditional-use permit that council approved on a 7-0 vote Tuesday.

For the project, the town council also voted 6-1 in favor of amending some of the zoning conditions for its site.

Other items related to the project that council passed on separate 7-0 votes included an amendment to the North End special signage district — for future tenant needs — and a 4,085-square-foot right-of-way vacation along Gilbert Street.

The right-of-way vacation will provide some space for the building itself, but also for green space and sidewalks.

In return for the right-of-way vacation, the Virginia Tech Foundation will dedicate to Blacksburg an equally sized space located between Prices Fork and the historic Odd Fellows Hall building.

Titled the Gilbert Street mixed-use project, the building is slated to house retail, restaurant and office space of university-affiliated uses. It will also include a rooftop terrace.

Additionally, the project will add parking beneath the new building and an elevated parking platform facing Prices Fork.

The project will necessitate demolition of the old Buffalo Wild Wings building and the structure that currently houses a Five Guys restaurant and the Blacksburg Wine Lab.

“I’m pleased to be standing before you and bringing this project to the town of Blacksburg,” Virginia Tech Foundation President John Dooley told council members. “We feel very connected to this community, and we’re very proud of what we’re proposing. This is an economic development initiative … in the context of the retail, commercial that will be added, as well as the event venue on the top level.”

Council members, during their previous review of the project, had questioned whether the building posed too big and too quick of a leap for the town.

Yet the project also earned commendation for the commercial uses it promises to bring and the benefits for historic structures.

“It is my hope and belief that this memorandum of agreement will help it [Odd Fellows Hall] continue to thrive and actually enhance the immediate surroundings,” Councilwoman Susan Anderson said.

The memorandum of agreement Anderson referred to establishes conditions that CS Shopping Center — a Virginia Tech Foundation company — promises to meet in regards to Odd Fellows.

Among those conditions is that the CS Shopping Center, at its expense, agrees to work with the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Foundation to develop and erect a wall-mounted plaque or another written tribute to the history of Odd Fellows Hall and the African American community that created it. The tribute will be located on the new building’s first-floor public lobby.

Odd Fellows Hall is the only remaining structure from New Town, northern Blacksburg’s historic black community.

Another condition of the agreement is that the Virginia Tech Foundation promises to build no new structures in the green space between Odd Fellows Hall and its new building. That specific agreement passed on another 7-0 vote.

However, one concern that several council members raised Tuesday is that the building — like other Virginia Tech Foundation properties — will be allowed to pay a reduced amount in property taxes.

Councilman John Bush pointed out that only a portion of the building’s square footage will be taxable.

How much public revenue comes from the taxable portion of the new building will depend on leaseholds the Virginia Tech Foundation works out with its retail tenants.

“I do think the taxation issue is real … We the town have to pay for those [town] services,” Bush said. “When you build Virginia Tech and Foundation buildings, we’re basically losing the availability of commercial base real estate ventures, which would provide 100% taxation.”

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