Town to rethink deal with business center

FRONT ROYAL – Town Council might scrap a major part of an economic development effort over dissatisfaction by some business owners.

Mayor Timothy Darr’s panel of local business owners and community leaders recommended ways the town could help boost its economy. The Economic Committee that began meeting last year presented its 15 goals for 2015 to council in late May. Town Manager Steve Burke presented to council this week a summary of efforts underway or planned by the town associated with the committee’s recommendations.

The first goal relates to the town’s 2-year commitment to work with the Small Business Development Center at Lord Fairfax Community College. The town has been working with interested parties to develop business seminars required under a contract with the agency.

Representatives from the center submitted to the town the kinds of seminars they wanted to host, Burke said. The town has relied on the center to work with Tourism Coordinator Tim Smith and other officials to put on the seminars. No one from the center attended the work session. Members of the mayor’s committee did sit in on the discussion.

“I know that it hasn’t been to the satisfaction of a lot of folks and we hope to resolve that in the future,” Burke said.

Darr said he supported this effort when presented to council last year. The town paid $20,000 to cover the first year of the commitment with the Small Business Development Center. The center held the first seminar in late February.

“This may fall in that category of something we tried but didn’t do as well as we thought we would,” Darr said.

The first year of the commitment ends in September. The economic committee recommended the town create a panel of volunteers to oversee the involvement with the center and the work performed through the commitment. Darr said the panel should advise council whether or not the town should revisit the commitment.

The mayor said he didn’t want the town to commit another $10,000 if it’s not receiving the product council expected from the venture.

“I’m not placing blame on anyone,” Darr said. “But what I am saying is that if this isn’t meeting our needs, then I don’t want to renew the second option here.”

Darr suggested council and officials meet with people who attend the town’s business forum and with the Front Royal Independent Business Alliance to discuss the future of the relationship with the center and bring back a suggestion later this month.

The following work is underway by the town and other parties to meet the other goals:

• Evaluating options with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission on the creation of a community development manager position
• Initiated a study of enhancement options for South Street and begun discussions with the commission to develop entrance corridor improvements
• Improved signs for public parking
• Undertaken partnerships to sponsor events aimed at increasing tourism such as Taste of the Town, Gazebo Flicks, Celebrate the River and First Night Front Royal
• Working with the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority to develop the former Avtex Fibers property and in the process of designing an extension of Main Street through the site
• Finalize the installation of overhead lighting downtown
• Discussed the creation of a building inspection program and collaborating with the county to set up a joint, online permitting service
• Developing an application to submit to the Virginia Main Street program and create a tourism committee to mimic the panels the town would need to set up if a Main Street designation is approved
• Pursuing grants to set up a façade improvement program
• Conduct regular business forums
• Exploring parking concerns and opportunities to expand options through garages and lots
• Worked with businesses to license public sidewalks and rights-of-way for outdoor, commercial use
• Established a “Rediscover Front Royal” brand and offers the clock logo to businesses to create continuity in advertising

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