Frontier Culture Museum Finds Suitor

Earlier today Lauren Fulbright of the Daily News Leader reported that the Frontier Culture museum is negotiating a lease agreement with Petrie Ross Ventures, an Annapolis-based development firm, to build a shopping center on 40 acres of land owned by the Museum.

The new development, if it passes several stages of approval, will be called the Centre at Staunton. The property in question is situated along Route 250 and next to the Sheetz gas station. Eight and a half acres of this land has already been leased to a company called Awasawa, which plans to build an artisan center on the site. The DeJarnette Center is also located on this parcel (a historic landmark I have discussed many times in the past), and it sounds as if the development firm will have to knock it down to make room for their mixed-use development with “retail, banking, restaurants, theater/artisans center, museum and hospitality.”

Translation: big-box stores, chain restaurants, and parking spaces.

I’m not shocked by this announcement because the Frontier Culture Museum, including former Mayor John Avoli, has tried to entice other developers to purchase this parcel of land. According to Fulbright “the museum spent three years negotiating with a company called Dierman/Regency to put a retail center on the site, the deal fell through about a year and a half ago.”

However, I must say that I’m disappointed in this news for several reasons:

  • The DeJarnette Center will be demolished: I’m an advocate for historic preservation, smart growth, adaptive re-use, and infill development. Historic buildings, including the DeJarnette Center, can teach us about the past, and help us find ways to build a brighter future.The DeJarnette Center may have a sullied reputation, but its architecture is astonishing and unmatched by anything we build today. Plus, the building has already been constructed (although it could use a few touch-ups) and the infrastructure is in place so the developers and the City don’t have to spend additional money on new materials and utilities. The developers want to build a hotel on the property — why not leave the DeJarnette Center and turn it into an attractive and unique hotel? Just look at how attractive the Villages at Staunton will be!
  • The new development will mar the entrance corridor: Local officials for the City of Staunton have been working on an Entrance Corridor Overlay District that will restrict the types of development that can occur in the City’s entrance corridors. The Overlay District is intended to beautify the City; protect cultural, scenic, and natural resources; and promote sustainable development. The Frontier Culture Museum is situated along Route 250 and Interstate 81, one of the biggest corridors in the City. This area is already dominated with big-box retailers and chain restaurants. The open green space on the Museum’s property served as pleasant reminder of the area’s rural character, and it was a great entrance because it clearly delineated the City’s boundary. Tourists and motorists knew when they were leaving the County and entering the City. The new development will blur this line and deminish the land’s ascetic values.
  • The development will pull business away from Downtown Staunton: The Centre at Staunton? First of all, we’re in the United States not the United Kingdom. We say “center” not “centre.” Petrie Ross Ventures completely ignored the local (actually national) vernacular. However, they were very clever in their attempt to use British terminology to disguise the fact that they are adding to Staunton/Augusta County’s sprawl and haphazard commercial strip. The “Centre at Staunton” is laughable because it is not located in the center of the City, and if this development is built it will only draw business away from the City’s center, its historic downtown. The development should be called the “Periphery at Staunton: On the outside looking in.”

The City of Staunton is fortunate to have a vibrant downtown district with beautiful buildings, thriving businesses, and a strong sense of community. It takes decades for areas like Staunton to develop organically, and once it’s gone it’s difficult to replace. City officials, local residents, and developers should make stronger efforts to protect this unique area. If I could impart one message to Petrie Ross Ventures and the City of Staunton it would be: Grow in not out. We should try to reinforce the City’s urban core while conserving the periphery.

Plus, in a time of rising gas prices doesn’t it make more sense to develop more walkable communities?

I will write more on this issue later in the week once I’ve had more time to examine the developer’s proposal and think about the pertinent issues.

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  1. finnegan

    This is bummer news.

    I’m a big fan of outdoor museums like this, but the fact that they would sell land to a development like this makes me not want to go back.

    I especially liked your comment ‘The development should be called the “Periphery at Staunton: On the outside looking in.”‘

  2. Corbin

    Thanks for the comment Fin. I’m a big fan of the Frontier Culture Museum as well.

    I still haven’t wrapped my head around this project yet. I don’t like the location of the Centre, but the design is 10 times better than the design of Wal-Mart/Lowes, it might bring more people to the Museum, and the increased tax revenue will help the City accomplish its various projects (e.g. stormwater management plan).

  3. Chris A

    Corbin, regarding the DeJarnette buildings, the problem is that they are beyond rehabilitation. There have already been cost-benefit studies done on the buildings, and they are in extremely poor shape, and I believe have a serious asbestos problem. No developer would touch it with a 10-foot pole. The only option to rehabilitate it would be for the city to either A) rehabilitate it on its own, or B) provide an incentive to a developer to do so. Either way, you are talking about a massive expenditure of tax money which is unquestionably going to meet legitimate opposition among residents.

    Regarding the site itself, the land had to be sold to a private entity by law (it was declared surplus land when Allen was gov). Plus the museum needs revenue to continue expanding (they are planning several new sites), and that certainly isn’t going to come from the state or the city.

    The museum will have full control over the design, building materials, architecture, etc, and I think they will do a good job having it fit in. I know the Richmond Rd strip is kind of ugly right now, but perhaps this new development can set a new standard. I don’t think Avoli is going to let this look like crap, he wants to increase visitors at the museum.

    I think you are right that the city will see the benefit from tax revenues which they can use to invest in the city’s infrastructure, schools, etc, improving the quality of life and HOPEFULLY bringing in better paying jobs, high tech industry, etc.

  4. Josh Baugher

    Some additional information:

    Awasaw to Attract Thousands to Staunton
    http://www.nbc29.com/global/story.asp?s=8960461




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