Blacksburg's Midtown Project stalls out over parking garage funding

Economics don't work for project at current scale if developer pays for garage

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Blacksburg town leaders and developers need to come to an agreement on a major hangup if they want progress on one of the largest projects in the town's history, or the project may have to be scaled back.

The Midtown Project, which is slated to take over the Old Blacksburg Middle School site, would include commercial space, residential, retail and a hotel. But as of now, it's found itself in a holding pattern and an anchor office tenant has moved on from the project because of the delays. It doesn't mean they can't be replaced, but town leaders and the developer most certainly didn't want to find themselves in this position.

They're still hopeful that one day, the Midtown Project can be the project of their dreams on the South end of Main Street in downtown Blacksburg. The devil, however, is always in the details and in this case the fine print is no different. The major question revolves around a parking garage and who will pay for it. The developer said if it's going to be successful, the town has to pay for it.

It was back to the Blacksburg Planning Commission for the Midtown Project because the developer and the town failed to finalize the deal. The commission recommended approval for the rezoning request required for the project six months ago, but the window attached to that ran out.

"I think absolutely it's the most complex rezoning decision that has ever been before the town," Blacksburg Planning Commission Chairman Andy Kassoff said.

The plan presented Tuesday night stays mostly the same as the previous plans. A few takes here, a few gives there, and at the end of the day it's still a mixed-used residential, commercial project that's proposed to be a crowning jewel for the town.

More than a dozen factors helped stall the project, but one bears the most weight.

"Parking structures are built in developments like this with the support of public funding," Midtown Project spokesperson and attorney Jeff Geiger said.

The developers need maximum density to make the economics of the project work and the town wants maximum density to help fill downtown. To get the project built like they want it, they need a parking garage, but the developer said a garage is expensive and their budget doesn't make sense when they pay for it. If they have to change the budget, the overall plan will significantly change and be reduced.

"If we price ourselves out of that market with added costs, we can't find tenants to find the building If I can't find tenants to fill the building, I don't get a lender to give me a loan to build the building and the project is never built," Geiger said.

The town and the developer both stand to make substantial gains on the project which gives both sides incentive to get a deal done. Both Geiger and Kassoff said it's a work in progress to figure out how the puzzle will fit together.

"We can still have a successful project with different types of parking structure design and size and the question is going to be what is the ultimate design and how can we achieve it and at the end of the day we may have a project that has fewer parking spaces," Geiger said. "The revenue sources that are available will dictate what the design will be."

One person spoke at the public hearing Tuesday night but there will also be public comment March 19 which is when the planning commission is expected to make its recommendation. The developers are hoping to move quickly on this piece of the puzzle as they want to break ground this summer.

If the planning commission says yes, it will go back to council to finalize and the six-month countdown begins once again.

"I can't speak for the rest of the commissioners but I do feel that there has been a lot of goodwill on all parties but also there hasn't been that significant change in the rezoning itself," Kassoff said.