Developer seeks incentives for downtown rehab projects

FRONT ROYAL – A developer plans to breathe new life into a couple of downtown buildings.

Vibe Properties LLC intends to redevelop buildings at 120-124 E. Main St. and 205 E. Main St. The Town Council is expected to vote at its meeting today on a request to approve two Tourism Zone Performance Agreements with Vibe Properties for the two rehabilitation projects. Officials determined the projects qualify for tourism zone incentives based on the town code. Council must approve a performance agreement with the developer before the town can provide any incentives.

Vibe’s proposed projects are the first for Front Royal since town officials established the tourism zones and the incentive program, Planning and Zoning Department Director Jeremy Camp said Friday.

Vibe President Kerry Barnhart said that renovation and demolition efforts continue as the company rehabilitates the buildings that once housed several local businesses. The developers expect to see a brewpub and a hiking-related store occupy the properties along with other businesses.

Barnhart said she hopes the projects will be a positive move for the town.

Vibe plans to invest almost $1 million in the projects – far beyond the $25,000 minimum required to qualify for incentives such as a break on its business license fees and utility connection costs. Vibe representatives also expect the investment to create at least 20 new jobs.

If approved, Vibe would receive a 100 percent reduction in the fees charged by the town for permits and the Business and Professional Occupation License. The reduction would last for 10 years from the date that Vibe applies for a business license at 120-124 E. Main St.; seven years for the property at 205 E. Main St. The town also would allow Vibe to pay the utility connection fees over a period of up to 10 years, interest-free.

The agreements call for Vibe to make the proposed improvements within one year of their execution in order to receive the incentives. Vibe must maintain hours of operation for at least six hours per day, five days a week.

Vibe Properties plans to make improvements to the façade and windows at 120-124 E. Main St., as well as updates to its interior such as flooring, fixture, lighting and climate control “to create a destination retail environment.” The company expected initially to invest approximately $250,000. Vibe originally intended to make the same investment to rehabilitate the building at 205 E. Main St. Plans for this property include façade and window improvements, potential overhaul of the interior staircase, work on plumbing, lighting and ventilation. Vibe envisions use of the building for a restaurant or retail space.

Town code requires a minimum investment of $25,000 for a project to qualify for tourism zone incentives.

Vibe President Kerry Barnhart stated in a June 13 letter to Camp that the company updated its information for the tourism zone application. Vibe now expects to invest at least $500,000 for improvements to 120-124 E. Main St. and $450,000 for work on 205 E. Main St. Barnhart notes that the numbers could increase as work progresses.

The town recently created three tourism zones and identified eligible land uses that could qualify for incentives. Uses include retail, dining, entertainment and lodging. Some zones include culture and arts, personal services and offices in others. The Downtown Business Tourism zone includes condominiums as a qualifying use.

Qualifying projects must include a new, capital investment of $25,000; create at least one job; conform to Front Royal’s Comprehensive Plan and comply with the town code.

Eligible land uses may receive a 100 percent reduction in the business professional occupation license tax depending on the amount invested in the project, from four to 10 years. Eligible commercial land also may qualify for an incentive that allows the developer to pay the utility connection fees over a period of up to 10 years without interest.

The council approved at its June 12 meeting a resolution for an existing encroachment of a part of the property at 120-124 E. Main St., also known as the Barnhart building, specifically a loading dock with steps and a roof. The dock encroached on the town’s parking lot on Peyton Street. The encroachment lasts for five years that the town can extend for another five years.

Vibe, located in Linden, bought 120-124 E. Main St. from the Failmezger Group LLC for $618,600 on Feb. 27, Warren County property records show. The latest assessment puts the value of the property at $491,300. Vibe bought 205 E. Main St. from Cloverdale Limited for $520,000 on Jan. 17. The county assessed the three parcels that make up 205 E. Main St. at $575,100.