In St. Paul, renaissance is on the agenda
People once called St. Paul the Western Front.
“St. Paul was a coal town, so the railroad would run in and drop people off there,” says Kimberly Christner, president and CEO of Williamsburg-based Cornerstone Hospitality. “One side of the railroad was dry and … the other side was wet with alcohol, and that was the St. Paul side.” The St. Paul side of the tracks, she says, featured bordellos, bars and bar fights. “People who are still living say it was bloodier than the Western Front in World War II.”
So Christner and her partners named their boutique hotel the Western Front.
The 30-room hotel, which opened in 2018, is part of a renaissance in the little town that straddles the border of Wise and Russell counties. Along with the hotel and its restaurant, Ina + Forbes, led by Torrece “Chef T” Gregoire, who appeared on two seasons of Fox’s “Hell’s Kitchen,” the town of 1,000 people also boasts a new high-tech co-working space and a local craft brewery.
The downtown Lyric Theater, built about 1950, is being reborn as a performance space and conference center. Phase one of that project is complete, says Kathy Stewart, Main Street manager for St. Paul Tomorrow, the organization that’s resurrecting the Lyric. If the $2 million phase two goes as planned, the Lyric could be hosting shows and meetings in 2021.
Stewart hopes the Lyric will become an affiliate of the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, but St. Paul’s main draw remains outdoor activities. Biking, hiking and ATV trails run through the town.
The Clinch River does, too.
In 2019, Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation acquired three parcels along the river to create the commonwealth’s first “blueway” — or water-based — state park, with master planning scheduled to start this fall. It will offer a series of camping and boat launch sites for paddlers on the Clinch.
Just a block from the river, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise’s new Oxbow Center gives entrepreneurs broadband access and co-working space, as well as connections to the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, says Josh Sawyers, U.Va.-Wise’s innovation center manager.
“If they want to stay here and connect with those jobs,” Sawyers says, “the technology now allows them to be able to do that.”
It’s also attractive, he says, to entrepreneurs tired of big-city headaches.
“It’s off the beaten path,” Stewart says of her town, “but it’s up and coming.”