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Pearl: Alcohol referendum first step in gateway-area growth

Pearl: Alcohol referendum first step in gateway-area growth

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By Pete Pearl

Pearl is president of the Botetourt Chamber of Commerce board of directors and an attorney with the law firm of Spilman Thomas & Battle.

In November, Botetourt County residents will have the opportunity to make a significant decision that will affect the region’s economic atmosphere and prosperity for years to come. A petition circulated in the county’s Valley District has placed a referendum allowing liquor by the drink on the ballot.

The Botetourt County Chamber of Commerce believes the availability of liquor by the drink and the businesses it will attract will benefit the Botetourt business community in general and especially the Interstate 81 Exit 150 interchange redevelopment. The chamber encourages those who are eligible to vote on the matter to support the initiative.

(Valley District, in general, is comprised of Troutville, Cloverdale, Coyner Springs and the Alternate 220 corridor.)

Future economic development in the Exit 150 area, along U.S. 220 South and the nascent Gateway Crossing depends greatly on local regulation supporting rather than restricting growth. The county, its residents and this chamber are optimistic the county’s new “front door” will spur economic growth and prosperity in the immediate area as well as open doors throughout the county for decades.

Our front door needs curb appeal to attract significant businesses that will employ county residents and increase county tax revenues: curb appeal in the form of an economic environment that attracts facilities and amenities necessary to capture and retain employers.

For the most part, the highly sought economic development trio of commercial, retail and hospitality has passed by the Exit 150 commercial area despite the excellent siting opportunities. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, more than 25,000 vehicles pass through the intersection of I-81 and U.S. 11 and 220 daily (2014). Despite the presence of these three major arteries (and two others in close proximity: U.S. 460 and the Blue Ridge Parkway), there is little incentive for travelers and local residents to stop for much more than necessities. While single-night stays and quick meals have been instrumental in establishing this economic center, more substantial commercial offerings can spur growth exponentially. Additionally, lost revenue from the closing of Travel Centers of America can be recovered.

Diverse commercial offerings, including high-end dining, will lead to top-tier hotels and retail, which potentially lead to conference centers, business parks and other entities found in progressive economies. Restrictive alcohol laws have hampered efforts to lure high-end dining establishments, which come hand in hand with higher-end accommodations and lead to destination businesses such as conference centers.

Just north and west of the of the interstate in Daleville, liquor by the drink has been instrumental in the siting of several of the county’s top restaurants, putting establishments just miles away at a distinct disadvantage. Chamber member Stephanie Rogol, owner of Tizzone and the adjacent Town Center Tap House at the Daleville Town Center complex, said recently in The Roanoke Times she would not have chosen the spot if liquor by the drink was forbidden.

“I can’t imagine a business whose . . . customers come together in a social atmosphere being able to survive without at least a beer and wine license, and you would probably need a liquor license,” she said.

County elected officials at a recent board of supervisors meeting pointedly expressed the county’s ever-increasing need for expanding the tax base that sustains the quality of life Botetourt residents deserve and expect. Quality schools, recreation opportunities and residential areas come at a cost. However, continuing to raise real estate taxes is not the answer.

The chamber believes the answer lies partially in pulling revenue from outside the county. Neighboring jurisdictions strategically leverage the needs of the traveling public into additional tax dollars. Much of the tax revenue generated at Gateway Crossings will come from nonresidents, a net gain for county budgets.

The availability of liquor by the drink has not caused noticeable harm or hardship in areas of the county where it has occurred, including Daleville Town Center. In fact, such areas see significant growth once this obstacle is cleared.

Strong, effective economic development is not a single process with simple issues. It is the result of many smaller well-reasoned decisions that together create a great atmosphere for business. We should take the first step in November by passing this referendum for future prosperity of the county.

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