FOR THE RECORD February 2021
Stockholders of CarLotz Inc., the Chesterfield County-based consignment dealer of used cars, gave the requisite approval to complete a proposed merger with Miami-based special purpose acquisition company Acamar Partners Acquisition Corp. that was scheduled to close in late January. Upon the consummation of the merger, CarLotz, which is valued at $827 million, is slated to become a public company listed on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol LOTZ. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
After four years and more than 15 previous delays, the $2.7 billion acquisition of Henrico County-based Genworth Financial Inc. by China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co. Ltd. was delayed indefinitely in January. Though the merger agreement still remains in effect, the deadline for the merger that had been set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020, was not extended. Job cuts may now be on the way for the Fortune 500 insurance company as it pursues a contingency plan that may include a partial initial public offering to meet its $1 billion in debt obligations due this year. (Richmond Times-Dispatch, VirginiaBusiness.com)
Liberty University, the large, private nonprofit Christian school in Lynchburg, filed a lawsuit in January against Gov. Ralph Northam and the director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), alleging that amendments to the 2020 state budget “wrongly exclude” students who learn online from receiving the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG). With more than 108,000 online students enrolled as of July 2020, in addition to more than 15,000 students on campus, Liberty is the state’s largest university by enrollment. In a statement, Liberty claims the state’s budgetary changes discriminate against online learners in favor of “place-based” students. Since 1973, VTAG has served as a non-need-based grant for Virginia residents attending participating Virginia private colleges or universities. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
In December 2020, the city of Richmond issued a request for qualifications/proposals, the first step in launching a competitive process for bringing a resort casino to the state capital, subject to voter approval. Voters in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth already overwhelmingly approved casinos in referendums held during the November 2020 elections. For Richmond’s casino project to go forward, Richmond city government must select a single preferred casino operator and location. Richmond voters must then grant approval for the proposal in a Nov. 2 referendum. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
The redevelopment of Lynchburg’s River Ridge mall is moving into its next phase: demolishing the former Macy’s building on the west end of the property in the first quarter of this year. The area is slated to serve as the development’s restaurant and entertainment hub, as well as offer traditional retail and personal services. The goal of this phase is to create an open-air shopping experience with higher store elevations and urban-style storefront designs. It also plans to host an outdoor venue for family-themed community events. Liberty University, the mall’s owner, has been working to update the mall in recent years, including renovating its main court. (The News & Advance, news releases)
The Hilton Richmond Hotel and Spa in Short Pump, the 254-room flagship of Chesterfield County-based Shamin Hotels’ empire, may change hands as a result of the pandemic. 12042 West Broad Street Holdings LLC, the Bethesda, Maryland-based noteholder on the property, alleges a breach of contract, saying Shamin fell behind in its loan payments beginning in April 2020. The noteholder says Shamin owed $46.8 million on the loan as of Dec. 1, 2020. Shamin CEO Neil Amin said in December that his company is cooperating to allow the noteholder to take control of the hotel through receivership and a possible public auction. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Hedge fund Alden Global Capital is looking to acquire Tribune Publishing — which owns The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press newspapers — and take the Chicago-based newspaper company private in a $520 million deal. Alden already owns 32% of Tribune and has made a nonbinding proposal to buy out other shareholders for $14.25 per share. Tribune, previously known as Tronc, bought the Pilot in May 2018 for $34 million from the Batten family; it already owned the Daily Press. At the beginning of 2020, Tribune sold the Pilot’s downtown Norfolk headquarters for $9.5 million. (The Chicago Tribune)
Busch Gardens Williamsburg reopened in January and plans to remain open in February and early March, making the theme park open year-round for the first time in its history. Busch Gardens will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. After being shuttered in the early months of the pandemic, the theme park began reopening in a limited capacity last August. (WYDaily.com)
Portsmouth City Council approved a $500,000 deal in December 2020 for Fairlead, a ship-building and repair company, to purchase the 2.5-acre North Pier that sits on the Elizabeth River. With current Navy plans requiring more labor — including the Ford aircraft carrier class, the Virginia-class submarine and the upcoming Columbia-class submarine — Fairlead expects it will need additional space, necessitating an expansion from its current facility in the former Ocean Marine boat storage center in Portsmouth to the neighboring North Pier. It plans to construct a 38,000-square-foot warehouse to help build and repair ships on the pier, and expects the new facility to generate 225 new jobs. (WAVY-TV 10 News)
Four competing groups have been shortlisted to redevelop the area around Norfolk’s Military Circle Mall. The city wants to revitalize the area with a mixed-use development built around the old mall and tied into The Tide, Hampton Roads Transit’s light rail system. The city envisions new homes, hotels, shopping, restaurants and offices; some of the groups vying for the development have added an arena into their proposals. The groups shortlisted by the city are due to submit their proposals in April for revitalizing the economically floundering part of the city, located at a major interstate junction. (The Virginian-Pilot)
Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University announced in early January that they want to develop a joint regional School of Public Health. The Norfolk-based institutions have been awarded a $4 million grant from Sentara Healthcare through its $10 million community investment, the Sentara Healthier Communities Fund; the schools will likely also request state funding to support their goal. It is the universities’ belief that training students in public health will help address health disparities and bolster health care offered in Hampton Roads, especially in minority and low-income communities. The remainder of the Sentara fund will be split over a two-year period to address health disparities and support health sciences programs in Hampton Roads. (The Virginian-Pilot)
Newport News-based accounting and consulting firm PBMares promoted Harvey L. Johnson to CEO, effective Jan. 1. Johnson, a partner and cybersecurity and control risk services practice leader, is the company’s second CEO in its 58-year history. He succeeds Alan S. Witt, who became CEO in 1979. Founded in 1963, PBMares provides services to Fortune 500 companies and is ranked among the top 100 U.S. accounting firms by net revenue. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
The Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority has given developers of the former Afton Inn more time to close on the sale of the property. At a special meeting in early January, the authority’s board of directors voted to extend the date of settlement with 2 East Main LLC for the purchase of the property until Feb. 12. Officials say the LLC’s partners are dedicated to renovating the site, which is located across the street from Front Royal’s Town Hall.
(The Northern Virginia Daily)
Augusta County has stalled its plans to expand its historic courthouse after some argued that the project would alter the character of downtown Staunton. On Jan. 8, the Historic Staunton Foundation announced that the county had withdrawn an appeal concerning its certificate of appropriateness for nine buildings surrounding the Augusta County Circuit Court, stalling the project. In September 2020, Augusta County announced it had secured purchase options for the nine properties surrounding the courthouse in order to keep the court a functional and secure space. (Staunton News Leader)
Millboro-based BARC Electric Cooperative has joined the new Virginia, Maryland and Delaware Association of Broadband Cooperatives (VMDABC), a cooperative association aimed at encouraging the expansion of high-speed internet service in underserved rural areas. A member-owned electric utility that serves the Shenandoah Valley, BARC and its BARC Connects subsidiary have taken the lead on expanding broadband access in the Shenandoah region; it joins four other cooperatives from Virginia and Maryland. Only 49% of households in Virginia making less than $20,000 per year have a broadband subscription; in some areas of Virginia as many as 60% of households lack internet service. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
The town of Blackstone in Nottoway County and the city of Buena Vista will split $90,000 in Community Business Launch (CBL) grants, which provide business plan competition funding and training for entrepreneurs focused on regional economic development. Half the funding will go toward the Blackstone Business Launch, an eight-week business competition for retail businesses to address vacancies created by the pandemic. The remaining $45,000 will go toward the Buena Vista Community Business Launch, a 10-week business competition focused on Buena Vista’s downtown district. The projects are expected to impact seven businesses and create at least 15 jobs. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Since the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Living Wage Campaign launched publicly on Labor Day of 2019, 25 businesses have been certified by the initiative as living wage employers. Defined as the hourly rate a full-time employee must earn to support themselves, the living wage for a one-person household in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County is $11.97 per hour. To be certified by the initiative, area businesses must pay their employees at least $11 per hour, or $9.50 per hour with health care coverage. (Daily News-Record)
Using the trade name Pure Shenandoah, Elkton-based Shenandoah Valley Hemp LLC will invest nearly $3.3 million to establish an industrial hemp fiber processing and cannabidiol (CBD) oil extraction facility in Rockingham County, creating 24 jobs. The company has committed to purchasing 100% of its industrial hemp from Virginia growers, resulting in nearly $5 million in payments to Virginia farmers over the next three years. Pure Shenandoah will become the first participant in the Virginia’s Finest trademark program to source the hemp used in its products. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
The nonprofit Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens (AASC) announced in December 2020 it plans to house a Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) center in Marion’s former police department building. AASC, which is headquartered in Cedar Bluff, has been serving senior citizens with a variety of programs for
45 years. It employs more than 200 people.
AASC plans to not only buy but also expand the former police building. Construction is expected to begin early in 2021 and take about six months, with the center ready to open by Sept. 30. Renovation costs are projected at $350,000 to $400,000. (Bristol Herald Courier)
The bankrupt Blackjewel coal company — which left hundreds of miners in Southwest Virginia without pay in 2019 — is being liquidated and is accusing former CEO Jeff Hoops of conducting fraudulent transactions. Ned Pillersdorf, who represents the company’s former miners, said adversary action filed in mid-December 2020 reads like a “criminal indictment.” Adversary action could lead to recouped funds for Blackjewel, which could in return be used to benefit miners who lost their jobs from the coal company’s bankruptcy. It’s not known whether liquidation will be able to cover a lawsuit filed by the miners who sued over a lack of layoff notice under the WARN Act. (SWVAToday.com)
Students impacted by COVID-19 now have until Dec. 30 to apply for Re-Employing Virginians (REV) tuition assistance to attend Mountain Empire Community College. In early January, Gov. Ralph Northam extended the deadline. The program provides scholarships to enroll in five essential industry programs, including health care, information technology, skilled trades, public safety and early childhood education. MECC will receive more than $782,000 to assist residents of Norton and Wise, Lee, Scott and Dickenson counties who are interested or are currently enrolled in high-demand fields and have been impacted by COVID-19. (The Coalfield Progress)
Retiring the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center (VCHEC) near St. Paul will bring unnecessarily abrupt economic hardship to Wise County if state and local officials do not begin to plan now for a transition, concludes a December 2020 report from the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis. The eight-year-old power plant, which burns coal, reclaimed coal mine waste and wood waste, is at risk of closure as market and policy forces continue to work against its viability. The report notes that VCHEC ran at only 19.86% of its capacity during the first eight months of 2020. During its peak performance in 2013 and 2014, the facility operated at slightly more than 65%
of its capacity. (News release; The Coalfield Progress)
Roanoke/ New River Valley
A site plan submitted in mid-December 2020 for the first onshore wind farm in Virginia shows 15 turbines standing 624 feet tall atop a Botetourt County mountain. Apex Clean Energy provided the most detailed public description to date of Rocky Forge Wind, a renewable energy project that took years to get off the ground after being proposed in 2015. Earlier approvals by the Botetourt County Board of Supervisors and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality had set a maximum of 22 turbines at a height of up to
680 feet — about as tall as a 50-story skyscraper.
(The Roanoke Times)
Cardinal Glass Industries in mid-January announced the completion of its $8 million facility expansion project at the Vinton Business Center with plans to add 60 jobs to expand the glass manufacturing operation. The 26,000-square-foot project expands and modernizes the facility’s production space and office area and adds an employee break room and locker rooms. Construction was carried out by Salem-based G & H Contracting. (The Roanoke Star)
Craig-Botetourt Electric Cooperative submitted a December 2020 request to the State Corporation Commission for a more than 6% rate increase to offset millions of dollars spent in upgrades to aging infrastructure. If approved, the rate increase could generate nearly $730,000 in additional revenue for the New Castle-based cooperative. C-BEC has
7,200 members in Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig,
Giles, Montgomery and Roanoke counties.
(The Fincastle Herald)
Chicago-based Hecate Energy is one step closer to building a 2,700-acre solar farm on various pieces of property throughout Pulaski County. A planning commission in mid-January recommended the county Board of Supervisors approve the special use permit the renewable energy company needs to move forward with one of the state’s biggest solar farm projects on land that is currently zoned for agricultural use. The permit would allow local landowners to lease several pieces of land to build the solar farm Hecate officials say would generate up to 280 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power approximately 57,000 homes. The total investment in the project is estimated to be nearly $400 million, and it will generate $420,000 annually in additional tax revenue.
(The Roanoke Times)
The United Way of Roanoke Valley announced in mid-January that it would administer a $1.5 million state grant for more emergency child care options for school-age children as part of the Ready Regions aid package. United Way of Roanoke Valley will focus on creating community partnerships that involve diverse sectors, including nonprofit organizations, child care facilities and schools, workplaces, local government, health, nutrition and social services. One million dollars in funding has been designated to support tuition costs through June 30 in the cities of Roanoke, Martinsville, Covington, Lexington and Buena Vista, and the counties of Alleghany, Botetourt, Franklin, Rockbridge and Henry. (The Fincastle Herald)
Bank of Botetourt announced in December 2020 the appointment of former Roanoke Regional Partnership Executive Director Beth Doughty to its board of directors. (Smith Mountain Eagle)
The Roanoke Regional Partnership announced in early January that John Hull has been named as its executive director. He succeeds Beth Doughty, who retired in December 2020 after 22 years with the organization. Hull has worked with the partnership since 2010, most recently serving as its director of marketing intelligence. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Virginia Tech announced in late December 2020 that former Supreme Court of Virginia Justice Elizabeth McClanahan was named CEO of the Virginia Tech Foundation, which manages the university’s endowment. She succeeds John Dooley, who announced his retirement in August. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Amazon.com Inc. announced in December 2020 it will invest in two more Halifax County solar farms, in addition to a deal announced last March that is expected to come online this year. The two new solar farms, which are expected to provide 70 megawatts and 51 megawatts of power by 2022, are in the southern part of the county and northeast of South Boston. The projects will be the 13th and 14th Amazon solar farms in Virginia. County supervisors approved the projects, which were submitted by developer Carolina Solar Energy, in April 2018. In March 2020, Amazon invested in a 65-megawatt solar project in South Boston that will provide renewable energy capacity to the grids
that supply its data centers.
Beaver Hills Golf Course is closed, possibly for good, and that could be the only thing that is settled about the Henry County property. A request for a special use permit that would allow the construction of a solar farm on the property has been denied by the county Board of Zoning Appeals, but Andrew Palmer, commercial leasing manager for The Lester Group, says North Carolina Renewable Energy intends to appeal that decision to a Henry County Circuit Court judge. Lee Clark, Henry County’s director of planning, zoning and inspection, said, “I can’t say covering that property with solar panels for the next 40 years would be the highest and best use of that property.”
In January, Danville officials said they would update the city’s master plan for the Schoolfield neighborhood, where a Caesars Virginia casino is going to be built. The master plan will include the West Main Street corridor and the surrounding neighborhood, Danville Economic Development Director Corrie Bobe said. After winning a local casino referendum in November 2020, Caesars Entertainment purchased the former Dan River Inc. site on West Main Street for $5 million. The city’s master plan was put on hold last summer pending the outcome of the vote, but urban planning firm WRT has resumed work on it. Bobe said Caesars has pledged $360,000 toward the master plan’s $374,000 cost. (Danville Register & Bee)
Two local, minority-owned agribusiness enterprises say they have received little or no help from the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority in getting their operations up and growing. Officials from 40 Acre Cooperative and Mor-Cannabis Farms in Scottsburg complained of inaction at a December 2020 IDA meeting. 40 Acre Cooperative has been trying to purchase the Daystrom facility, but its regional director says that she did not receive a response to her emails from IDA members or supervisors. Mor-Cannabis, a family-owned hemp processor, applied for an Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development grant, but the paperwork has since gotten lost in a reshuffle at the agency, which has undergone leadership changes. (News & Record)
Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research announced in December 2020 it has broken ground on a $25.5 million, 51,250-square-foot manufacturing center on its Danville campus. The Center for Manufacturing Advancement will provide space for manufacturers establishing or expanding their presence in the region. The state and the Danville Regional Foundation are funding the project, which is expected to be completed in 2022. Meanwhile, Danville City Council members voted in January to return $275,000 in incentive money to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership for BGF Industries, which postponed its plans to construct a 25,000-square-foot building at the Cyber Park. BGF is currently operating at IALR. (Danville Register & Bee; VirginiaBusiness.com)
A Dickenson County sheriff’s deputy announced in early January that he plans to run for the 38th District state Senate seat previously held by Sen. Ben Chafin, who died on Jan. 1 due to complications from COVID-19. Jony Baker, a 44-year-old Wise County native, will make his first bid for public office in a special election to fill the open seat. (Bristol Herald Courier)
The Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce announced in December 2020 that Shannon Ainsley has been named as interim executive director of the chamber. Ainsley has served as the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce membership director since May 2015.
(The Southwest Times)
Amazon.com Inc. is committing nearly $340 million to affordable housing efforts in Arlington County, part of a $2 billion program, the Housing Equity Fund, that was announced in early January. Arlington, Nashville, Tennessee, Washington state’s Puget Sound region and other areas with a significant Amazon presence will benefit from the fund, which will go toward preserving existing affordable housing and creating housing developments with below-market loans and grants. The Northern Virginia pledge includes a $339.9 million below-market loan and $42 million in grants to the Washington Housing Conservancy, which purchased the Crystal House property in Arlington with some of the money. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Reston’s Comscore Inc., a media measurement and analytics company, announced in January that three companies were making a cash investment in Comscore in exchange for shares of convertible preferred stock. Connecticut-based Charter Communications Inc., Colorado-based Qurate Retail Inc. and an affiliate of New York-headquartered Cerberus Capital Management LP provided funds that Comscore will use to retire existing debt and improve the company’s financial flexibility and liquidity. The investment includes the issuance of convertible preferred stock of $204 million ($68 million per investor) at $2.47 per share. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Tysons-based Fortune 500 IT services company DXC Technology confirmed in early January it received an unsolicited, preliminary and nonbinding proposal from a French IT company to buy all of the company’s shares. DXC’s statement said the company will evaluate Atos’ proposal. Neither company confirmed whether the proposal would result in an agreement or transaction. DXC was formed in 2017 as a result of the merger of Computer Science Corp. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Enterprise Services business. It has 138,000 employees worldwide and saw $21 billion in 2020 revenue. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Inova Health System plans to build a
$1 billion medical campus at the 51-acre site of the former Landmark Mall in Alexandria, the city announced in December 2020. The campus, which will employ more than 2,000 health care workers, will include a relocated and expanded Inova Alexandria Hospital and anchor a new, 4 million-square-foot mixed-use development that will include residential, commercial retail and entertainment space. Landmark Mall opened in 1965, and most of the mall closed in 2017. Construction could begin as soon as 2023, with the first buildings ready in 2025, according to the city. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
Microsoft Corp. will open a sales headquarters in Arlington, the tech giant announced in early January. Construction of the 15-story, 359,840-square-foot Commonwealth Tower on Wilson Boulevard is expected to be completed in mid-2022 and will be home to the company’s U.S. regulated industries team, including Microsoft Federal. Microsoft did not disclose how many employees will work in the facility or how many square feet it has leased, but in a rendering, Microsoft’s logo appears at the top of the building. (VirginiaBusiness.com)
In January, Virginia Tech announced that it would rename its Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics in honor of Reston-based Octo Consulting Group CEO Mehul Sanghani and his wife, Hema. The couple, both Tech alums, made a $10 million gift that will support the Sanghani Center, which will move its headquarters to Tech’s Innovation Campus in Alexandria. The Sanghanis’ gift includes scholarship funding for minority students pursuing graduate degrees in A.I. Founded in 2006, Octo specializes in information technology and A.I. consulting for the federal government. (VirginiaBusiness.com)