County to contribute $1.4 million for ‘Grange’ market

Published 12:05 pm Thursday, October 27, 2022

Isle of Wight County supervisors voted on Oct. 20 to commit up to $1.4 million toward moving the Smithfield Farmers Market to former Smithfield Foods Chairman Joseph W. Luter III’s proposed “Grange at 10Main” development.

Luter has offered land and  $1 million contribution toward building a permanent home for the market, conditioned on the county and the town of Smithfield jointly raising another $2.7 million. Smithfield voted to approve its $1.4 million share on Oct. 5 following a closed session to discuss “contract negotiations.”

The new indoor/outdoor “public market,” as county officials are now referring to the project, would anchor Luter’s planned 56.8-acre mixed-use development, named for its location at Route 10 and Main Street.

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“We’ve been thinking about it as a farmers market; the farmers market, though, is going to be going away,” said County Administrator Randy Keaton. The “public market,” he said, would be “almost a business incubator.”

The Farmers Market currently operates seasonally on Saturdays in the parking lot of the Bank of Southside Virginia on Main Street as a branch of the town’s and county’s shared tourism department. Town and county officials anticipate the market’s lease agreement with the bank won’t be renewed once it expires in March. The Smithfield Times contacted the bank on Oct. 25 but has not received a firm answer as to whether it will renew the market’s lease.

“If we do nothing, it stops,” said Supervisor Dick Grice, referring to Luter’s proposal, “and then what are we going to replace the farmers market with?”

As of July 25, Luter’s preliminary plans called for the market to be housed in a two-story brick building that would include 24 roughly 113-square-foot indoor vendor booths and four roughly 348-square-foot walled-off storefronts. December 2021 plans called for additional covered booths and open space outdoors, with the more than 13,000-square-foot building including shared bathroom facilities and one or two restaurants. According to County Attorney Bobby Jones, the most recent plans now call for a single-story building with a restaurant off to one side rather than on the second floor.

“The actual design of this is in its infancy,” Jones said. “There’s going to be a need to negotiate an agreement as to what this building is going to look like, how it’s going to be maintained, how it’s going to be managed, and how the day-to-day operations will be passed off to someone else. All of that has to be done … and we can be working on that simultaneously while the town has the sole province of approving the siting and landscaping and all the things that go with development.”

Luter’s preliminary Grange plans as of December had called for a $100 million first phase, which would include the market, a hotel, three- and four-story apartment buildings, single-family and duplex homes, commercial space and more than 1,000 parking spaces. Luter has yet to submit a formal application for rezoning, which will fall solely to Smithfield’s Town Council to approve or deny.

According to Keaton, the latest proposal is for the new public market to be managed by the county’s Economic Development Authority rather than continue under tourism, since the EDA is already set up to manage leases.

“It would take the two local governments out of the picture of actually managing the day-to-day rental,” Keaton said.

According to a fiscal impact study prepared by Ted Figura Consulting for Luter’s LSMP LLC holding company, Luter is requesting the town and county not only “purchase and operate” the new market but also “provide an economic development incentive” for the hotel, and “purchase the development’s infrastructure and utilities through a participation agreement.”

According to Jones, the county’s $1.4 million commitment “has nothing to do with supporting anything other than this farmers market” and “is not supporting the other residential or commercial” components.

Grice’s motion to approve up to $1.4 million for the market, subject to the negotiation of design, management and ongoing maintenance terms “acceptable to the county,” passed unanimously.