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Battlefields group eyes Lee Jackson building

Foundation hopes to make its new home in historic site, revitalize property with help of state grant

By Alex Bridges

A state grant could help the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation find a new home in the historic Lee Jackson Building in New Market.

But as the foundation's Executive Director W. Denman Zirkle said Tuesday, the organization needs to find a way to buy the property.

"We have been interested in the Lee Jackson Building for some time and continue to be," Zirkle said. "It's a perfect fit for the foundation."

New Market Town Council on Monday adopted a resolution of support for the foundation's application for a state grant aimed at helping revitalize the property for use by the organization and other commercial tenants.

The property at 9386 Congress St. remains vacant but on the market and, as Zirkle said, the foundation would like to acquire the property not only for its use but also to attract other businesses.

"It's really the town of New Market's grant," Zirkle said. "I'm really pleased the town of New Market feels as we do that if we were in that building and had different businesses in it in addition to ourselves it would be a real economic generator for the town. It's really gratifying that they went ahead with this grant application."

The foundation is seeking financial assistance through a state grant from the Industrial Revitalization Fund, administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development, explained Town Manager Evan Vass. The General Assembly appropriated $1 million to the fund for the entire state. Projects are intended to revitalize former industrial or commercial properties and put them into a position to generate jobs, Vass explained.

"What we're attempting to do with this project is to leverage some state funds -- a relatively small amount when given the entire grant program -- matched by funds from the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation if -- the important word there -- they are able to purchase the former Lee Jackson Hotel, and these funds would be utilized to provide infrastructure for commercial and professional tenants," Vass said. "That does two things: It provides leasable space to the battlefields foundation and it acts as additional commercial space and professional space for the downtown."

The SVBF operates its headquarters out of the historic Shirley House, owned by the Virginia Military Instutute, on the New Market battlefield. The Lee Jackson Building offers at least twice the space as the current headquarters site, according to Zirkle.

"It isn't so much expansion," Zirkle said. "Aside from its historic value, which is significant ... we think it can be a tremendous economic engine for the town of New Market."

The foundation plans call for the organization to occupy part of the building. The foundation then would work with the town to find tenants suitable for the available space, Zirkle explained. The request for the grant assistance coincides with the revitalization of New Market, according to Zirkle.

"It just depends on the tenants, the renters that we would attract and what use they would want for the building, for their space, so it would be more of a negotiation as to what we would do to renovate and restore for the renters and what the rent would be," Zirkle said. "It would be that kind of a negotiation and that grant is sort of the upper limits of what we think we would be needing to do. Until we get this ball rolling it's really difficult to say much more than that."

The foundation sought the town's endorsement for their efforts to seek the grant.

"I haven't met anybody who's not enthusiastic about this," Zirkle said. "It's just a question of how we get to where we want to be."

The former owner of the building completed renovations on the structure in 2005. A restaurant, bar and shop operated in the building from 2005 to 2009. The site also featured rental office space. The owner defaulted on the mortgage in 2008 and United Bank took the building. The bank put the building on the market with an asking price of $969,000, Zirkle said. The price since then has dropped to $700,000, still steep for the foundation.

"We need to buy it, but we need to arrive at a price that's reasonable before we do that," Zirkle said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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