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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.
Top-10 local business stories of 2012
This year was a mixed bag for the local business community. While there were some encouraging signs in local economic data and plenty of business activity throughout 2012, the Fredericksburg region continued to work its way through the hangover brought on by the housing bust, credit crunch and global recession. In no specific order, here were 10 important business stories for the Fredericksburg region in 2012. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and prosperous 2013.
1. Fiscal cliff concerns: Just about everybody in the local business community added a new word to their vocabularies in 2012: sequestration. That was the term used to describe the automatic federal spending cuts that would come in 2013 without a Congressional deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Because government contractors make up a large part of the Fredericksburg-area economy, the cloud of potential budget cuts, particularly those related to military spending, hung heavy for much of the year amid a divisive presidential campaign.
2. Dominion Raceway proposed: Word that the Old Dominion Speedway planned to relocate from Manassas to the Fredericksburg area caused an early buzz among Realtors and economic developers, and later some controversy involving residents in the Thornburg area who were opposed to the chosen site off Exit 118. Spotsylvania supervisors and VDOT officials will likely determine the Dominion Raceway’s fate in 2013.
3. Slavery Museum battle rages on: The drama over the U.S. National Slavery Museum continued. The museum entered and exited bankruptcy in 2012 but still paid none of its Fredericksburg taxes, making a tax sale auction on the 38 acres in Celebrate Virginia South a possibility. Meanwhile Kalahari Resorts, which once planned a huge waterpark resort next to the Slavery Museum site, appeared to turn its attention instead to the Poconos, and a tax sale loomed for much of the undeveloped portions of the Celebrate Virginia development in Fredericksburg.
4. Housing shows signs of life: Few would describe the local housing market as robust in 2012, but it clearly improved over the past few years. Median prices and sales rose, and buyers took advantage of good deals and cheap credit to snap up inventories of existing homes. That led to some demand for new homes, particularly in North Stafford, where the large Colonial Forge and Embrey Mill residential developments got under way. A foreclosure auction on much of the Belmont land in Caroline County late in the year served as a reminder of the market’s continued challenges, however.
5. Walton still bullish on the ‘Burg: Arizona-based Walton International Group purchased another roughly 179 acres in Spotsylvania, bringing the company’s total land holdings to nearly 1,750 acres in the Fredericksburg area. Walton also submitted a rezoning application for a large new residential community called Heritage Woods just south of Lee’s Parke in Spotsylvania. They weren’t the only group interested in the area near the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center. Plans continued to move forward on the Virginia Railway Express station, the Haven apartments were built, an assisted-living center began and a major rezoning application was submitted for land near the VRE station.
6. UMW drives economy: The University of Mary Washington and its private foundation continued to do their part to drive the local economy, opening a graduate campus in the growing Dahlgren area of King George County, starting construction on a new Hyatt Place hotel at Eagle Village in Fredericksburg, launching several construction projects on the main campus and participating in the development of the Stafford Technology and Research Center at the booming Quantico Corporate Center.
7. Debate continues over downtown direction: Downtown Fredericksburg was at the center of many debates, including whether Capital Ale House’s annual Oktoberfest event should be allowed to close Caroline Street, whether the city should join the Main Street program, if and how the new courthouse should be built, whether to proceed with plans to improve Riverfront Park and dredge the Rappahannock River, and where to hold the Turkey Trot race. Meanwhile the William Street corridor continued to build its reputation as the city’s “Restaurant Row,” with many eateries opening and more planned, while the first townhouses went up at the nearby Amelia Square.
8. Potomac Supply sold: Once one of the Northern Neck’s largest employers, the Potomac Supply Corp. lumber company declared bankruptcy before ultimately being sold for about $10 million to private equity firm American Industrial Partners. The plant remains open under the new ownership.
9. Central Park bounces back: After getting hit by numerous store closings during the recession, Central Park bounced back in 2012. Barnes & Noble, Buy Buy Baby and And That (the store is run by Christmas Tree Shops) filled large vacancies, while a new AAA car-care center opened and Jimmy John’s made plans to open in 2013.
10. State Fair sold: The State Fair of Virginia and the Meadow Event Park in Caroline County were sold following a bankruptcy filing by the previous owner. The new owners, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and Tennessee-based Universal Fairs, put on their first State Fair this past fall and looked to book additional events for the property.