SPEDA learns of Virginia Cinema study, ag-expo interest

Carla Slavey

SPEDA board members prepare for their July meeting in their new office. The economic development board has rooms on the third floor of the Energy Center.

SPEDA will be joining the city of Somerset and Downtown Somerset Development in funding a construction study for the renovation of the old Virginia Cinema building, while Pulaski County government officials updated the new economic board on the possible creation of an ag-expo center.

SPEDA (Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority) held its monthly meeting Thursday in its new offices, located on the third floor of the Energy Center.

Board member and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck explained to the SPEDA board that the Virginia Cinema study would cost a little less than $20,000. The city and Downtown Development each planned to pay one-third each, and Keck asked the board if it would be able to foot the final third of the bill.

Keck said he had discussed the idea with SPEDA CEO Chris Girdler, saying, "I think it would be tremendous for SPEDA to engage as well, since he [Girdler] has helped champion the quality of place, quality of life and art components."

Girdler confirmed that the board planned on providing the requested funding.

"Number one, we believe in it, but number two, it's a way for us to show how economic development is a big holistic approach. It's not just industrial recruitment, it's the quality of life, quality of place."

Keck said the study would give the groups an idea of cost, since money cannot be raised or allocated without knowing how much will be needed. "Is this going to be a million-and-a-half dollar project, or a $4 million project?"

The study will only focus on the costs of renovating the building. The Virginia, opened in 1922 has sat empty since 1994 and in the intervening years has seen extensive damage to the roof and other parts of the structure and interior.

It has undergone renovation in the last few years, getting it into a usable shape - if not restoring it to it's former grandness.

Meanwhile, county government's work on getting an ag-expo center to the community began over a decade ago, with County Judge-Executive (and SPEDA board member) Steve Kelley explaining that a feasibility study was completed in 2008.

More recently, a committee working on the project has come up with a plan for an 80,000 square foot facility that could host anything from tractor pulls to livestock auctions to concerts to indoor tract meets for students.

Deputy Judge-Executive Dan Price told the board that he felt the project should have "gone on through" when the study was originally done because as the third-largest county in the state Pulaski should have such a center, while most surrounding counties do.

Unlike the Virginia project, Judge Kelley was not requesting any assistance from SPEDA, merely updating the board on possible movement in the project, namely an equestrian industry organization that recently expressed interest investing and developing the facility.

For now, no plans have been approved or finalized.

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