By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Oct 15, 2017 | 12:00 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Months of construction work and earth moving have finally come to an end, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in aesthetic improvements aimed at drawing businesses and customers to one of the county’s key travel gateways as “The Gardens at Exit 45” prepares to be formally dedicated this month.
Prince George County and The Cameron Foundation will celebrate the completion of their major $1.2 million cooperative gateway project, “The Gardens at Exit 45,” on Monday, Oct. 16 during a dedication ceremony at the site.
“The revitalization effort aims to increase revenue and promote economic development for Prince George County at the county’s major hub for tourism, the South Crater Road Exit 45 off of Interstate 95,” officials with The Cameron Foundation said in a statement last week.
The gateway consists of major landscaping enhancements and features two 47’ tall glass architectural spires that flank the roadway and create a threshold to the commercial district, with color-changing lights activating within the spires at night.
“This gateway project is an example of one of The Cameron Foundation’s proactive strategies to support its mission to transform the Tri-Cities and surrounding counties into a healthy, vibrant, and economically vital region by strategically leveraging resources for community impact,” officials with the foundation said.
The Cameron Foundation is a private foundation that supports the work of nonprofits and partner agencies to transform the Tri-Cities and surrounding counties into a healthy, vibrant and economically vital region by strategically leveraging resources for community impact.
According to the Foundation, “Prince George County officials previously determined Exit 45 to be the county’s central point for tourism, contributing jobs and tax revenue to the local economy,” which led to the area being selected for this beautification project.
In an interview earlier this year, Deputy County Administrator Jeff Stoke explained that the improvements along South Crater Road have been discussed for a number of years, sparked, in part, from results of a study done in the area in 2014 by Management Analysis, Inc. In their data, the noted that there was a 40 percent drop in room rentals between 2012 and 2013 following the opening of a 1,000 room hotel on nearby military base Fort Lee.
In addition, their analysis pointed out that the area “lacks a recognizable chain restaurant that is open seven days a week” and the need for “streetscape improvements, such as street lamps and extended sidewalks,” among other items.
That report served as a catalyst to for several projects to improve the aesthetics of the Exit 45 corridor, with the county installing a pair of welcome signs along the north and southbound ramps before investing over $300,000 during their Phase I beautification project, with the installation of sidewalks, complete with ramps and access for those with disabilities, lighting and landscaping from the Comfort Inn hotel to the ever-popular Nanny’s Restaurant.
“This started off as a county project, with the lighting, landscaping, and sidewalks, and it grew when The Cameron Foundation approached us,” Stoke remarked. “You are now seeing private investment coming behind this project.”
In 2015, the county entered into a memorandum of understanding with the foundation as part of the joint revitalization project, with the county being among the first of five projects across the region, with total project costs estimated at just under $1 million, with the county being responsible for 50 percent of those costs.
With the project now completed, save the upcoming dedication, there has already been interest from businesses wanting to develop along the corridor thanks to the improvements.
“We are seeing a lot of energy and activity being invested in this area,” Stoke said. “For us, it leads to meals and lodging taxes, which is great, and we have seen a small bump in our lodging tax just over the past year, not only from this project, but from hosting the Eastern National ASA U-14 Softball Tournament, which filled both the Comfort and Hampton Inn during that week.”