- Report Published -
|Virginia’s Explore Park Status Report - December 2011|
|Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority|
|Appropriation Act - Item 352 F. (Regular Session, 2011)|
|The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority (“VRFA”), a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1986, is responsible for the operation of Virginia’s Explore Park, an 1,100-acre facility in Roanoke and Bedford counties – 700 acres in Roanoke County and 400 in Bedford County – adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway and bisected by the Roanoke River. Virginia’s Explore Park operated as an outdoor living history museum and recreation park from 1994 to 2007, when it was closed in anticipation of a lease agreement with a developer. The current economic climate precluded execution of this agreement and the VRFA created an alternate plan in December 2010 for the future of Virginia’s Explore Park.|
This document is a status report on the implementation of that plan and is respectfully submitted to the Governor and the Virginia General Assembly in accordance with SB800 of the 2011 General assembly Session.
The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority continues to be motivated to make Explore Park a success and accepts the challenge to move it forward to serve the needs of citizens and the visiting public.
In the present economic environment, we do not believe that an exclusively private or public sector management model is feasible or realistic if the Park is to be operated for expanded public recreational purposes. The public and private investments made in the Park, and the assets conserved in the Park, will be best managed by those closest to the Park itself. We believe the Commonwealth of Virginia should be a partner in this project; no one assumes, however, that the Commonwealth is ready to step in and fund development and operation of a full-service Park.
The new vision for Explore Park is to be a leader in providing outdoor recreation opportunities, stewardship of this region’s heritage, and advocacy for environmental conservation for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of present and future generations. Virginia’s Explore Park will be the region’s first choice for unique and memorable meeting and social event facilities, lodging, premier recreation venues and events, and inspiring educational programs.
The VRFA has started the process of gradually phasing in programs and services based on a sound business model approach, the success of each phase, and available resources and opportunities. By capitalizing on specialized programming and unique outdoor recreational opportunities, the VRFA will position the Park to maximize its natural setting.
The VRFA is poised and ready to reinvent Virginia’s Explore Park by creating a new way of doing business, focusing on the assets already created and expanding private business opportunities to develop new amenities, programs, and services. The goal is to create business opportunities for individuals, developers, and businesses to utilize existing facilities or develop new venues while generating lease or percentage fee revenue to operate the Park. The VRFA will chart the future of Explore Park by determining what public-private partnerships we engage in the future.
The Park that is developed will protect the natural and historical assets of the site while remaining a positive investment opportunity for the private sector. The private sector's investments in the Park must fit within an overall Park master plan that ensures a high-quality visitor experience that is authentic to the region and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The VRFA will use the leasing process, Requests for Proposals, and the PPEA process to seek out concessionaires, developers, and outfitters who will pay a lease and/or a percentage of gross revenue for the venues and opportunities created.
The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority respectfully requests that the Commonwealth of Virginia endorse, encourage, and support our dedication, motivation, and passion for continuing to operate and make Virginia’s Explore Park a success for our citizens and tourists and an economic driver for western Virginia and the Commonwealth.
Virginia’s Explore Park is a true asset of the Commonwealth of Virginia that should be afforded a degree of protection by the government that breathed life into it almost 24 years ago. The Park’s stakeholders also need to have an active role in its management. For these reasons, the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority asks the Commonwealth’s consideration of the following (listed in more detail on page 17):
1. Recognize that the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority has operated and continues to operate Virginia’s Explore Park in accordance with the Code of Virginia, to the extent that no further legislative extensions of the “reversion” clause of § 10.1-1618 should be necessary.
2. Give Roanoke County, Explore Park’s largest local government investor, voting representation on the Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority Board of Directors based on its financial participation and in-kind support.
3. Move Virginia’s Explore Park from the non-state agency status to a line item in the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s budget to remove Explore Park from the instability of non-state agency status.
4. Consider investing in capital development venues and revenue-producing programs at Virginia’s Explore Park.
5. Allow Virginia departments to assist in creating and soliciting proposals for development of public/private projects and provide technical assistance for project development.
The Virginia Recreational Facilities Authority has made progress on the implementation of the Explore Park management plan and will continue to operate Virginia’s Explore Park in accordance with Chapter 16 § 10.1-1600 of the Code of Virginia.