WINCHESTER — Anyone can become a victim of fraud. Just ask the Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA).
It started a few days ago when someone issued a counterfeit check drawn from the EDA’s checking account.
“We’re not sure where it came from, but the people at BB&T fraud monitoring caught it and immediately alerted us to the fact that a suspicious-looking check was coming through their system,” Winchester Development Services Director Shawn Hershberger said. “They flagged it, refunded our money and have been monitoring our account ever since.”
The issue came to light during Tuesday morning’s meeting of the EDA, where Hershberger told authority members it was pretty obvious the $700 check was not authentic and had not been stolen from the organization’s account.
“I believe they even had some inaccuracies in the spelling,” he said.
Later in the day Tuesday, two more fraudulent charges were made using the EDA’s account in the form of online or telephone purchases. The transactions were canceled, the compromised checking account was permanently deactivated by BB&T, and Hershberger said he was preparing to file a report with the Winchester Police Department.
Hershberger said he was pleased with BB&T’s handling of the situation, and the bank’s alertness was a testament to the effectiveness of its fraud prevention safeguards.
Also on Tuesday, the EDA voted unanimously to grant 60-day extensions to the memorandums of understanding (MOU) with two development firms overseeing a pair of major downtown construction projects.
Lynx Ventures Inc. is in the early stages of a proposed redevelopment of the vacant site at 200-214 N. Cameron St. where Winchester Towers once stood, and Providence Capital Partners LLC is finalizing plans for construction of a five-story mixed-use building at the northeast corner of North Kent and East Piccadilly streets.
Both properties are owned by the EDA, and Hershberger said the MOU extensions will allow more time to finalize the authority’s sale of the sites to the private firms.
Providence Capital plans to build a 51,000-square-foot complex called EPicc that would include 44 apartments, two retail stores or restaurants and indoor parking for all tenants. Demolition of the existing buildings at the site is expected to begin this summer once the property sale is complete, clearing the way for construction of the $10 million to $11 million facility to commence in autumn.
Lynx Ventures is envisioning a similar mixed-use building at the Winchester Towers site, with retail space on the first floor and apartments in the upper floors. Hershberger said the company wants a firm commitment from the EDA regarding its intent to sell the site and a timeline for closing the deal.
A previous attempt to develop the Towers site fell through in December 2017 when the corporation attached to the project, North Cameron Development Group LLC, exercised its option to walk away from the deal with the EDA.
Hershberger said it’s good that Lynx wants to formalize a purchase agreement because that’s a strong indicator the site will be developed after remaining vacant for more than two years.
“With a project of this magnitude, there are no guarantees that everything will fall into place the way we expect it to,” Hershberger said. “But it certainly is reassuring that they have done their internal due diligence on the project and the market, and they see the value and opportunity in that property.”
Hershberger said both developers plan to pursue financing through the Virginia Housing Development Authority, which carries a requirement that 20% of the apartments in the two facilities have to be affordable enough for people who earn approximately 80% of the city’s median income of $46,466 per year. The rest of the apartments will be offered for rent at current market values.
Attending Tuesday morning’s Winchester Economic Development Authority meeting in Rouss City Hall were members Douglas Toan (who presided at the session), Lauri Bridgeforth, Tim Painter, Cary M. Craig Jr. and Addie Lingle. Chairman William Buettin and Vice Chairman Jeff Buettner were absent.