We now know more about the future of the Natural Bridge. It will eventually become a Virginia State Park.
The owner who made the deal, Angelo Puglisi, is described as incredible.
"Probably the most wonderful seller I've had the opportunity to work with and he's got a passion for the history probably because of his upbringing, his father was a first generation immigrant, came here in 1901," said Jim Woltz who lobbied to make the deal happen.
After owning the Natural Bridge for 26 years Puglisi, an 88-year old, is making sure the twenty story bridge and land once owned by Thomas Jefferson is shared for generations as a state park.
"I found there were a number of people who didn't know who Thomas Jefferson was. We need to educate the young, we need to educate the people to what it is that they came in to and I don't think that was happening," said Puglisi who is based in Washington DC.
Here's how it works. The owner donated the bridge and 188 acres to the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF). The group bought the surrounding property for $9 million through a loan they hope to pay off by the end of 2015. The money will come from annual revenue that's been about $2 million a year and private donations.
"It gives me comfort to know it's in good hands, it will be there in perpetuity and I don't have to be worried about anybody trying to buy it and make it a circus to do whatever," said Puglisi.
"I'm really excited for what this is going to mean to Virginia from an economic standpoint and for the parks and the conservation standpoint. It's conserving 1500 acres of really deserving land for Virginia," said Woltz.
"Our vision for Natural Bridge is to be the center piece of the state park system. We want Natural Bridge to become a family destination resort that represents the essence of outdoor recreation, historic preservation, and environmental conservation in Virginia.", Tom Clarke CEO, VCLF.
A news release from the newly-established Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF) provides more details about the changes coming to Natural Bridge. The VCLF purchased Natural Bridge with the intent of making improvements to the property and making it a Virginia State Park. Tom Clarke, the CEO of the group, said they want the site to "become a family destination resort that represents the essence of outdoor recreation, historic preservation, and environmental conservation in Virginia."
The group plans to make changes to "emphasize the history and ecology" of the buildings and grounds. VCLF will also work to improve the outdoor recreation opportunities at Natural Bridge. Many parts of Natural Bridge, including the gift shop, hotel, and caverns, should be open by late March 2014.
VCLF is a member of the Kissito, Inc. portfolio of properties. Kissito is a Roanoke-based non-profit.
Natural Bridge will eventually become a Virginia State Park; hopefully by the end of 2015. The owner, Angelo Puglisi, gifted the bridge and 188 acres valued at $21 million to the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund.
The surrounding 1,500 acres was paid for with a $9 million loan that will be paid off through revenue and donations. Natural Bridge brings in about $2 million a year in revenue.
We will have more on the story tonight beginning at five.
Natural Bridge, Va. (Feb. 6, 2014)—Woltz & Associates, Inc. today announced the sale of Virginia's historic Natural Bridge and 1,500 surrounding acres to the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund (VCLF). In the coming years, as part of the terms of the agreement, VCLF will deed Natural Bridge and its surrounding properties to the Commonwealth of Virginia to become a Virginia State Park. This arrangement was made possible because the Bridge's owner, Angelo Puglisi, generously gifted the Bridge and 188 acres of the property—valued at $21 million—to VCLF.
Since 1988, the Natural Bridge, the hotel, attractions and more have been owned and operated by Washington, DC area real estate developer Angelo Puglisi. He purchased it all with the intent of keeping it accessible to visitors forever.
Commenting on the new ownership, Puglisi said, "This incredible property is filled with inspiring splendor and history. I am pleased that this national landmark—once owned by Thomas Jefferson and surveyed by George Washington—now has a path into the Virginia State Park system that will allow upcoming generations to enjoy it just as I have enjoyed it."
Jim Woltz, President of Woltz & Associates, said, "This agreement has been months in the making and we're very pleased with the result. It's a great accomplishment to put the last piece of a complicated puzzle together. The result is a tremendous benefit to the region and the state. It would not have happened without such a wonderful owner and seller, Angelo Puglisi."
Multiple parties—including the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Department of Environmental Quality and numerous conservation groups and organizations—worked together to find a solution that was true to Mr. Puglisi's vision to preserve Natural Bridge and its surroundings for visitors for years to come.
"I admire Mr. Angelo Puglisi and his efforts to conserve Thomas Jefferson's Natural Bridge for the benefit of future generations. Virginians, indeed all Americans, should be grateful. One of our nation's most iconic natural landscapes is now protected in perpetuity," said Joe Elton, Interim Director, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
VCLF will purchase the balance of the conservation land assets of 1,300 acres with a loan from the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund administered by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Resources Authority. Repayment of the loan will be funded through donations and operations of the Bridge. Upon repayment of the loan, the property and operations will be conveyed to DCR—managers of the Virginia State Park system.
The Natural Bridge itself is designated as a Virginia Historic Landmark as well as a National Historic Landmark. Known as one of the world's natural wonders, the Natural Bridge of Virginia has attracted visitors from around the globe since the time of Thomas Jefferson's ownership. It is a significant local, regional and national attraction.
Woltz added, "Through the work of many people, Natural Bridge will remain one of the top scenic destinations not only in Virginia but across the U.S."
We are expecting an announcement about the future of Natural Bridge this afternoon.
"Pretty historic deal and the end result will be very good for the Commonwealth" said Jim Woltz, the broker for Natural Bridge when we talked with him this morning.
As you may remember, The Natural Bridge of Virginia and the Natural Bridge Hotel closed temporarily for inJanuaryy as it made the transition to new ownership.
Woltz & Associates, the Roanoke-based brokerage firm that oversaw the sale of Natural Bridge, announced on November 22 that a tentative deal had been reached to sell the historic property to a "non-profit conservation organization". The name of that group has not been revealed -- however, Broker Jim Woltz says the property will transfer to them in an "innovative public-private partnership."
Woltz also noted last year that the new owners are committed to making Natural Bridge some type of a public park.
WSLS 10 will post information on the announcement as soon as it becomes available.