Developer signs agreement to build apartments in former Amherst school

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MADISON HEIGHTS, Va. (WDBJ7) A developer with a track record of building loft apartments in Bedford and Petersburg has signed an agreement to bring new housing to a former school in Amherst County.

Waukeshaw Development has entered a performance agreement with the Amherst County Board of Supervisors to bring more than 30 market-rate apartments to the former Monelison High School property on Phelps Road in Madison Heights.

The building, which later served as an elementary school, has been vacant since the early 1980's. Recent attempts by other developers to rehabilitate the property have failed and residents in the Phelps Road neighborhood have complained about the blighted condition of the property for many years.

Below is a statement from Amherst County Economic Development Director Victoria Hanson

The historic former school on Phelps Road in Madison Heights may have new life as market-rate apartments in the next few years. Amherst County approved a redevelopment Performance Agreement with an experienced historic rehabilitation developer, Waukeshaw Development, to bring new vitality to the building and community. The former Phelps Road school is a historic property of significance to the Amherst community and Waukeshaw wants to invest at least $5,000,000 to redevelop, restore, and convert the building into 30+ market-rate apartments while maintaining the historic character of the building.

The Board of Supervisors and the Economic Development Authority of Amherst County both approved the agreement with Waukeshaw this week as the first step in the complicated process of redeveloping the building, which has been empty for decades and has deteriorated over time. Waukeshaw has a contract to buy the former school from its current owner and the closing is scheduled for Oct. 27. As part of the process to see if the project is financially viable, Waukeshaw will need to accomplish a variety of steps, such as getting on the state historic register, developing design and build estimates, solidifying its financing, receiving historic tax credits, applying for grants, etc. If certain key milestones are not met, the County can buy the building from Waukeshaw at a predetermined low price and decide whether the building should be demolished.

If the project progresses to construction, the $5,000,000 renovation should be finished within 3 years of closing. Crucial to the decision-making process for the County was the economic impact and return on investment of the project. Based on the project costs and the estimated 80 residents in the apartments, it was projected that during the construction phase the County would receive $71,044 in tax revenue, 51 new jobs would be supported, and there would be $6,583,839 in economic activity. Additionally, the annual impact of the project when completed would generate $57,051 in new local tax revenue, 14 new jobs, and $1,350,016 in economic activity.

“The EDA saw this as a clear win-win for the County,” according to Calvin Kennon, EDA Chairman. “Amherst County and the EDA want to promote and encourage economic development and vitality in Amherst, especially in this area of Madison Heights that needs redevelopment. This project would be a great start by increasing economic activity, employment, and financial investment.”

As part of the agreement, the Supervisors agreed to rebate up to $400,000 in potential water and sewer fees when the project was completed. If the building was demolished, it would cost the County about $470,000 to gain ownership of the building and demolish it.

Supervisor Jimmy Ayers commented, “If we take half a million dollars in taxpayers’ dollars and tear down the building we will get no return on our investment. At least with this project we get some economic growth in our County in a positive way and we get a return on the investment as we assist them in our community.”

Waukeshaw has redeveloped multiple properties around Virginia, including several in Bedford: Bedford Lofts and Beale’s Brewery & BBQ. The company also recently bought the historic Amherst Milling Company and intends to preserve the Mill and the bucolic setting and use the one-of-a-kind property as an outpost for its existing Trapezium Brewing Company, based in Petersburg, Virginia. The project is on track to open in summer 2018 and hopes to become the first hydro-powered brewery in the U.S.