BLUEFIELD, Va. — After almost six years and a $13 million investment, the Bluestone Business and Technology Center off U.S. 460 in Tazewell County remains empty, but that does not deter Eastern District Supervisor Charlie Stacy’s optimism.
The 680-acre center has “shovel ready” building sites, he said, and is being actively marketed by the state as one of the few locations in the commonwealth that can accommodate larger companies.
With 3-acre to 12-acre building pads that can be expanded, Stacy said they are “graded out and ready. Companies can grow as their business grows.”
“We can’t give incentives like larger places (jurisdictions),” he said. “The state has to participate in marketing.”
That participation includes many regional and state partners, including the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority.
Companies will eventually take notice, he said, and realize it’s far more than a traditional industrial park.
“The concept of the Bluestone is live, work and play,” he said, adding that the center will include upscale companies as well as restaurants, a hotel-conference center, a residential area, recreation facilities, hiking trails, and rental cabins and a lodge higher up on the mountain.
Areas for general businesses are also set aside in the seven-phase construction plan.
“It is not meant for a metal shed facility,” he said. “We want to recruit companies in the information-technology fields that offer high wages.”
Stacy said occupants will be screened to that effect.
“You don’t want to sell to the first customers just to have something in the park,” he said.
The center can offer “cutting edge technology,” he said, with its fiber optic connections. Other infrastructure, including water, sewer and electricity, are also in place.
Besides all of this, the natural beauty of the center will be a huge draw, he said, and that’s why it’s important for the state to help bring people to actually see it.
It’s a view that has to be seen to be appreciated, he added.
One of the most important attractions, he said, is the quality of the workforce. “That is our biggest incentive.”
But Stacy said he knows many may be critical that the center is still empty, especially considering the investment.
That was not the case when the center broke ground in 2010 and a dental school was planned as its first occupant.
However, funding for the school became an issue and the plan fell through.
Stacy said the center was a “wonderful vision for the board” and of the $13 million, about $10 million was from the Tobacco Commission and it was the county’s to lose.
“You lose that opportunity (for the funding) if you don’t act,” he said. “Everybody is competing for it. That money would have been allocated somewhere else (if Tazewell County had not worked for it).”
Grant funding was also used for much of the remaining $3 million, costing taxpayers relatively little, he added, and the investment will eventually pay off as the economy changes and improves.
Stacy said prospective businesses and industries have in recent years trended toward wanting vacant existing structures, which the county does not have right now.
That will change, he said, and it will be worth the wait.
In the meantime, he wants to start planning for the center’s use by the community.
“We can start on the recreation part of it,” he said. “We can start mapping that out.”
The center is already being used by some runners and hikers, he said.
Stacy also explained why he recently pushed for zoning in his district, zoning that would have prohibited wind turbine farms.
He pointed to the ridgeline of East River Mountain directly behind the park and said Dominion Power wants to cover that with wind turbines.
Any business or industry in the center may not object, but potential residents may. “They would not want to see that,” he said.
His wish for the board to approve the ordinance failed Tuesday night when the planning commission did not recommend it to the board.
Stacy, an attorney who was elected to his second term on the board last November, said he knows that residents simply don’t want any zoning, and he respects that.
But he does not want anything to mar the beauty of what he calls a “diamond in the rough.”