The Front Royal Town Council plans to appoint an executive director for its new economic development authority next month.
Mayor Christopher W. Holloway announced at the council’s meeting on Monday that Town Manager Steven Hicks would serve as the EDA’s executive director.
The Town Council has yet to appoint members to the EDA Board of Directors after months of advertising for applicants. The council expects to establish the EDA by March 15 and the town will accept applications until March 31.
Holloway, Vice Mayor Lori A. Cockrell and council members Gary L. Gillispie, E. Scott Lloyd, Joseph E. McFadden, Jacob L. Meza and Letasha T. Thompson attended the meeting.
The town’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget includes $100,000 earmarked for Front Royal’s EDA.
The town released more information on Tuesday about Hicks’ role as EDA executive director. The town also clarified that the council plans to appoint Hicks to the position at its meeting next month
Hicks will serve in both roles at his current salary. Hicks and members of the Town Council have said that this approach rather than hire someone for the position would save money. The town touts in the release Hicks’ experience leading public-private development projects targeting downtown revitalization.
The Monday announcement comes three days after the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority finalized its sale of the former Afton Inn at 2 E. Main St. to a developer. The authority board members touted the sale as a boon for downtown and a step toward their effort to regain financial stability for the EDA.
But despite the recent sale, which the town did not oppose, Holloway pointed out in the announcement that the Front Royal-Warren County EDA remains insolvent and, as such, cannot perform many of the tasks needed to help economic development.
Front Royal officials would consider joining the county’s EDA when: the authority produces all missing audits and clean previous and future audits; it is solvent; the agency is released from a financial obligation with First Bank and Trust; all possible criminal and civil litigation have concluded; town taxpayers have recovered all misappropriated, stolen or fraudulently obtained assets by the EDA or any of its employees, the release states.
The town’s announcement outlined the current EDA’s financial woes, specifically a loan through First Bank and Trust, as an impediment to its ability to boost the local economy. The terms of the loan, as part of a confession of judgment the EDA signed with the bank in September 2019, mean that all of the authority’s assets up to $9 million and not secured by another party belong to the financial institution, according to the release. The bank must approve any property purchase for the town or county. The EDA cannot obtain bonds, loans, or other financing with the town or county’s direct involvement. It could take years for the EDA to function as a traditional authority and help spur economic development for the town, the release states.
The Virginia General Assembly took action last year to allow the town to establish its own economic development authority. The Town Council then added the required language to the Town Code that allows for the creation of the authority.
Holloway read a written statement, which the town also issued as a news release Monday night, to announce the creation of the authority set for March 15 and to outline the reasons for the action.
“The decision to move forward with FREDA was not taken hastily or lightly,” Holloway read. “The town’s decision to move forward with its own independent EDA has more to do with the present and future rather than the past.
“The town has re-development and economic development needs now that council does not believe the county’s EDA is in the position to perform,” Holloway stated.
Small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic need help to recover, and council members hope the town can prevent more stores from closing, the mayor stated.
The mayor said a Front Royal authority would make it easier for the town to address blighted properties by using tools available to such agencies.