Regions Shenandoah Valley

Museum to develop 60-acre land parcel

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

After years of inactivity, plans to develop property at Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum finally are moving ahead. 

A 60-acre parcel of land fronting the museum was conveyed to its board of trustees during Gov. George Allen’s administration in 1994.  But plans to develop the property were on hold until the General Assembly passed House Bill 18 during this year’s session. The law gave the board of trustees the authority to transfer the property to the museum’s foundation for $1, creating a public/private partnership.

The board requested that it be given the authority that colleges and universities have had to transfer properties from the state to its foundation to help expedite property development.

The move allows the Frontier Culture Museum Foundation to develop and lease the property. “The proceeds or rent would be used by the trustees and the foundation working together to build out our master site plan,” says Executive Director John Avoli.

Staunton’s Planning Commission approved the foundation’s master site plan in October. A week later, the Staunton’s City Council gave the final approval. “The next step is to clear the land,” Avoli says.

Challenges lie ahead, he acknowledges, because of the slow economy and a search for developers that will fit the foundation’s criteria. “The foundation will have the ultimate say so as to what goes out there and what it looks like,” Avoli says. “It’s important to preserve the entrance to the museum. We don’t, for example, want mini-warehouses there. It has to be something that is aesthetically pleasing.”

Plans for the area include the $29 million, 8½-acre Awasaw Cultural Center, which would have a theater and provide spaces for artists. The project still awaits financing. “That hopefully will happen soon,” Avoli says.

There are additional projects on hold, as well, including plans for a grist mill, the Crossing Gallery — a 10,000-square-foot gallery with exhibits and demonstrations — and Montgomery Springs Village, a pre-1850 village. It will feature craftspeople such as harness-makers, blacksmiths and cobblers reproducing crafts from the 19th century.

“All ground lease proceeds will be used by the foundation for the purpose of enhancing the capital and operational needs of the museum,” Avoli says. “I pray the economy turns around so we can do all these wonderful things.” 

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