This past month, The Washington Post ran an article on Pulaski County, Virginia, asking “Can rural America be saved?” In it, Libby Sander profiles John White, Economic Development Director, of the Town of Pulaski and details some of the struggles he faces with revitalizing the formerly booming industrial town.
But it’s not all toil and trouble—the Town has attracted a range of new neighbors from industry to mixed-use development to the Pulaski Yankees, an advanced Rookie team whose investors are building out the Dunnivant Building into an extended stay facility for the team. Much of the investment in Pulaski’s future, however, would not have been possible without the Town’s successful application for USEPA Brownfields Assessment Grants in 2009 and 2014—a grant program totaling $400,000 that Draper Aden Associates applied for on behalf of the Town—as well as Draper Aden Associates’ completion of numerous environmental assessments over the past five years.
Lori Kroll, Community Resource Specialist in the DAA Blacksburg office, met with both John White and the citizen-led Economic Development Board to discuss the goals for the Town’s brownfield sites—often-times crumbling buildings and weed-sown plots of former 19th and 20th century textile and furniture factories—throughout the grant proposal process. One of only two Virginia localities to be awarded the grant in 2014, the monies fund brownfields inventories as well as environmental site assessments. Srikanth Nathella, PE (DAA, Blacksburg) led the environmental assessment effort on all the Town’s brownfields sites and, with many of those completed, investors are cashing in on developable buildings and land.
One building that DAA completed an environmental site assessment on, the former Virginia Wood Products Building, is scheduled to be torn down this year in order to make room for the Jackson Park Inn and Conference Center. This extended stay hotel is being built on that property as well as in the adjacent Dunnivant Building, another revitalized brownfields building, and will house the Pulaski Yankees baseball team, fans, and visitors during both the on- and off-season. In addition to providing hotel rooms, the center will also feature a restaurant with patio seating and entertainment—a boon to Pulaski’s tourism economy.
Another success story lies with the former Jefferson Yarns Hill Plant, a former texturing plant for Jefferson Yarns, Inc., that is now home to Blue Bird Resins, a plastics recycler who purchases plastic by-products and processes them into new plastics for manufacturers like Volvo. Using sustainable research and design, Blue Bird Resins is now helping sustain Pulaski with employment opportunities.
Saving rural America will take a lot of elbow grease, but John White, the citizens of and investors in the Town of Pulaski, and Draper Aden Associates are ready to take on the task. While Pulaski may never again be the industrial giant of the mid-20th century, it is certainly on track to be a leading 21st century diversified town. With expanding tourism, a push towards a reinvigorated downtown with shops, restaurants, galleries, and apartments, as well as an eye towards expanding industry and other employment opportunities within the town, Pulaski is poised to be a poster child for rural Virginia’s revitalization one redeveloped brownfields site at a time.