By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: January 4, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – 2018 saw a number of stories make headlines in Prince George County, with some of those stories breaking first on our website, http://theprincegeorgejournal.com.
Here are some of the most read stories during the course of the last year on our website and, be sure to visit The Prince George Journal site for the latest breaking news, along with local and regional in-depth reporting. There, you can also submit your story ideas and find out how to provide your community news and questions to our newsroom.
Luca Italian Restaurant prepares to move to new location – Jan. 22, 2018
Surrounded by family, friends, staff, patrons, and well-wishers, Samantha Pedraza, 9-year-old daughter of Luis and Carmen Pedraza, prepares to cut ribbon of the new Luca Italian Restaurant
In 2018, Luca Italian Restaurant, a Prince George County institution prepared for a big move as the longtime resident of Courthouse Road geared up to move into a new, spacious location just up the road from their old building.
In June, the doors to the restaurant opened to the community.
Owners, Jose Luis Pedraza and his wife Carmen were surrounded by family, 14-year-old son, Luis; 9-year-old daughter, Samantha; 1-1/2-year-old daughter, Mia; Luis’ mother and father, Evelia and Jose Luis Pedraza; friends; staff, patrons; and well-wishers from all over Central and Southside Virginia, the Tri-Cities, and beyond as they cut the ribbon at their new location across the street from the county government complex and historic courthouse building.
“This has been a really long time coming, with a lot of hard work. I first thought we would be able to open our new place in February, but then that turned into March, April, and then May; and now here we are in June,” said Pedraza. “Every time five more things were completed, there were 100 more things that needed to be done,” Pedraza said.
The new Luca Italian Restaurant is located at 6411 Courthouse Road, across from the Prince George Government Complex and Historic Courthouse building.
Beloved pastor, police chaplain Livesay passes away – August 7, 2018
Pastor Robert Livesay, III seen here bringing smiles to the faces of the Prince George Board of Supervisors and the community in July as he received a commendation from the board for his 50 years of service to the ministry. (Michael Campbell)
A church congregation and the entire Prince George community is in mourning after the sudden passing of beloved pastor and Prince George Police Department chaplain Robert Livesay, III during the summer of 2018.
The difficult news was delivered by Prince George County Police, an organization Livesay was close with during his life, leaving many in shock.
The sudden death of Livesay came only weeks after the pastor was formally recognized by county leaders for his fifty years of service to the ministry during the Prince George Board of Supervisors’ meeting in July.
“Under [Livesay’s] leadership, Oakland Baptist Church has grown from a small congregation to a much larger one requiring two services on Sundays, resulting in the need for a 300-seat sanctuary,” Supervisor Floyd Brown, Jr. read from the commendation as Livesay stood next to him with a warm smile, a sight the community has come to his years of service.
“Pastor Livesay is a faithful servant of God who provides support and guidance to any police officer, communications officer, other department member and their families along with assisting police officers with victims of crisis situations and aid in the delivery of death notice,” Brown continued.
With a handshake and a smile, Livesay accepted his commendation from the county with thunderous applause from friends, family, and members of Oakland Baptist Church. Following the celebration, Livesay said a few words as the room entered a hushed tone, almost as if he was beginning one of his sermons on a Sunday morning.
“I grew up in Prince George and graduated from the high school before going down to Brunswick County and served as pastor there for 25 years and then I came back to Prince George 25 years ago,” Livesay said before making a joke that drew more laughs and smiles.
“There is a song we sing, ‘May those who come behind us find us faithful,’” Livesay continued. “That has been my prayer through these 50 years that the generation that comes behind my generation would have found me faithful serving our Lord to the best of my ability.”
In November, the church named Rev. Lee Woodcock as senior pastor of Oakland Baptist Church.
‘Tree Time’ eyes Prince George for new outdoor adventure park – June, 23, 2018
While much of the year was spent discussing the prospect of building a new elementary school in Prince George County, a new business wanting to set up shop in the county drew just as much conversation in the community during 2018 – Tree Time Adventures.
Billing itself as an outdoor, tree-top based adventure park, Tree Time Adventures sought to set up shop within an undeveloped portion of Scott Park, where the terrain is not suitable for the creation of ball fields.
The park would utilize the trees and ground below as the key pieces of infrastructure with those elements being part of three experiences that Tree Time would offer – a tree-based experience, a lower-level “junior” tree adventure, along with various trails and other outdoor experiences.
While operators saw the park as an economic development opportunity for the county, leaders, along with residents in the neighboring Branchester Lakes community had their own concerns that needed to be ironed out, including traffic, noise, and other possible impacts from the facility.
During a public hearing, over a dozen people from Branchester Lakes spoke in opposition to the project, suggesting it should be developed elsewhere in the county, or somewhere beyond Prince George’s borders.
In a following fall work session, county leaders hashed out the final details of the lease agreement, which allows for Tree Time Adventures to develop over 100 acres of land for the park itself, along with trails that would be admission-free.
Before the end of the year, feeling that many of the concerns had been addressed, supervisors unanimously approved a lease agreement between the county and the park’s operators, which allows the county to receive a portion of the park’s gross receipts and grants the park the ability to use the property.
In an interview, park operator John Bogue said he hopes to be a good neighbor to the Branchester Lakes community and the county as a whole.
“We are extremely excited, but we still have a lot of red tape to go through,” he said. “We are certainly interested in being the best possible neighbor. We want to bring good, wholesome activities to the county, but there is still quite a lot ahead of us still.”
The park is expected to begin operating sometime during 2019.
PGEC brings nearly 200 customers online as partnership with county pays dividends – June 25, 2018
Nearly 200 people from around the Commonwealth came to Prince George and the Central Wellness Center to discuss rural broadband expansion efforts with Prince George County’s partnership with Prince George Electric Cooperative serving as a model and a success story of public-private partnerships in the field. (Michael Campbell)
In 2017, Prince George County, the county’s industrial development board, and Prince George Electric Cooperative all joined forces in a unique private-public partnership with the goal of bringing more residents and businesses online with reliable, fiber-based broadband internet service.
During the summer, PGEC announced that they had brought nearly 200 customers online as part of its fiber-to-the-home project, which brings high-speed internet to the homes of its customers.
At that time, the 131 customers bought online do not include the roughly 50 other customers who were connected to PGEC’s fiber-optic network in 2016 as part of the pilot project along West Quaker Road between U.S. Route 460 and State Route 156. When combined, PGEC Enterprises is the internet service provider to over 180 members, both residential and business.
In 2017, the Prince George County Board of Supervisors voted to transfer $1 million from the county’s annual spring borrowing that was earmarked for broadband expansion to the county’s industrial development board following a compelling pitch by PGEC President Mike Malandro that year, where, following the successful implementation of the cooperative’s pilot program where over half of those homes in the area took the service and remain customers currently, they would expand this service to other parts of the county as the cooperative built out their fiber-optic network as part of their efforts to create a “smart grid” to link their electric substations.
A year later, with its innovative partnership as a backdrop, Prince George County and PGEC hosted a rural broadband summit that saw nearly 200 people from across the Commonwealth make their way to the Central Wellness Center for an engaging dialogue on how to bring internet services to communities.
PGEC also announced their new service for members known as Ruralband, which will bring Gigabit speeds to its customers.
“Our goal is to make Ruralband the long-awaited solution for equal access in rural Virginia,” the cooperative said, estimating, by the middle of 2019, including their pilot project, they expect to have over 650 homes connected to their service.
For Prince George Deputy County Administrator Jeff Stoke, these partnerships are “the best models to follow” to get internet in rural Virginia.
“Just like in 1936, we didn’t find other solutions like solar or wind to provide electricity, they brought the electric line to the home,” he said at the August 2018 event. “We think that bringing the fiber line to the home is the only true solution for the future.”