Land Revitalization Fall '05 Newsletter – Soccer Goals and Others Too At Former Avtex Fibers Plant in Front Royal, Virginia
Kids who play soccer in Front Royal, Virginia probably never imagined that a polluted Superfund site could be a place that sports dreams are made of.
But on April 11 th, ground was broken on the Skyline Soccerplex, a 31-acre, state-of-the-art, soccer facility with seven fields, bleachers, lighting, concession stands, parking, and a walking trail - all to be located on the Avtex Fibers Superfund site, now in the process of being cleaned up. Four of the fields should be ready for play by spring 2006. The center will serve as the headquarters of the Front Royal Youth Soccer Association.
The soccer fields, sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Foundation, are only one element of one of the largest Superfund redevelopment sites in the country, dubbed the "Royal Phoenix". The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) unveiled its plans for the Royal Phoenix to the community at an open house on May 14 th. Ultimately, the nearly 450-acre property will have, in addition to the soccer center, a 162-acre, mixed-use business park, and a 240-acre conservancy park with recreational facilities. At least 900 new jobs are projected for the site. The EDA wants to make Royal Phoenix part of the global economy and encourage young professionals to seek their future there, while also making Warren County and the town of Front Royal their place to live and enjoy.
Some of the envisioned projects include: an innovative technologies incubator; a showcase technology center; a culinary-wine institute; a hotel conference center; an artisan center; and the Shenandoah Center for Heritage and the Environment, which will showcase the region's economic and environmental history. The riverfront conservancy park, to be located along the Shenandoah River will have trails for walking, jogging, biking and bird-watching, and access points to the river for boating and fishing.
The open house also included a site tour of all the cleanup progress, and the refurbished historic former Avtex administration building which used various sustainable and renewable strategies, such as the use of natural lighting and low-pollutant paints and finishes in its rehabilitation. Organizers also put on a display of archaeological artifacts unearthed during the cleanup. These artifacts will eventually be part of the Shenandoah Center for Heritage and the Environment.
While the Superfund site will some day be bustling with business, recreational and cultural activity, it once bustled with an entirely different purpose. At one time, Avtex Fibers was the largest employer in Warren County, with more than 2,500 workers at the height of its production of rayon and other synthetics that served the commercial, defense and space industries. The manufacturing facility first opened its doors in 1939 as the American Viscose Company and was purchased by the FMC Corporation in 1963. In 1976, Avtex Fibers became the facility owner until manufacturing operations ceased in 1989 and Avtex declared bankruptcy, leaving behind a legacy of contaminated soil, sludge and groundwater.
As FMC Corporation (the only still-existing former owner of the site) and the Environmental Protection Agency work diligently on cleanup, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is on site conducting asbestos abatement and building demolition. Site redevelopment of the former manufacturing plant area will start once the Superfund cleanup and Army Corps demolition efforts are completed.
Dust in the Wind
Hundreds of people gathered on September 19 to watch as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers imploded the only remaining Avtex building, an eight-story boiler house. The blast marked a major milestone in the cleanup and redevelopment of the 440-acre site. Before the blast, an hour-long ceremony celebrated the future progress and honored the plant's past. EPA Regional Administrator Donald Welsh joined Congressman Frank Wolf and representatives from the state, the county and the local redevelopment authority to address the crowd. A former 78-year-old employee who worked at the plant from 1956 to 1988 also remembered the plant fondly.
The Avtex redevelopment is the culmination of a huge, long-term collaborative effort from a team of very motivated individuals from FMC, EPA, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Army Corps, the EDA, the Department of Justice and the community. Many legal issues had to be hammered out in order to incorporate redevelopment into the settlement and transfer the property to its current owner - the EDA. People living near the Superfund site also needed to be well informed and involved with decisions concerning the site's future use.
To this end, a multi-stakeholders group was formed to facilitate public participation and input. The group provided an interactive forum where a broad range of interested parties considered site-related issues critical to the future of the area. The group's members include local officials, community members, environmental and business group representatives, and municipal planners. It was this multi-stakeholder group which ultimately came up with the current redevelopment plan which combines business, recreation and culture.
It is the community's vision that eventually will be realized as more and more land is cleaned and available for redevelopment. The EDA will continue to meet with potential investors who can carry out the Royal Phoenix vision. The EDA hopes to have a major investor on board within the next year.