U. S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (VA-7) wants to know how much the State Dept. is spending to lodge and shuttle trainees to the new Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) at Fort Pickett.
Nine years after FASTC was first announced for Pickett, and eight months after the $450 million State Dept. facility opened, there is still no new hotel in Nottoway County to accommodate the projected 10,000 trainees per year.
Most are having to stay in Richmond, Petersburg, Farmville, and other areas and commute daily to Pickett — costing more time than FASTC planners anticipated.
Legislation that passed the House of Representatives last Friday, with bipartisan support, directs the Secretary of State “not later than 45 days after enactment of this Act — to submit to the Committees on Appropriations a report detailing training costs — including costs associated with transporting personnel to the facility and per diem to house trainees offsite.”
The Spanberger-backed legislation also suggests the possibility of onsite housing. A 450–room FASTC dormitory was eliminated from plans when the project was downsized in 2013 from $960 million to $450 million.
“Such report,” the legislation continues, “shall also include a review of options to house trainees closer to the facility, including — after consultation with the Secretary of Defense — the Privatized Army Lodging Program, and the viability, cost, and benefit of each option.”
No Local Hotel
In January, FASTC planners told Blackstone Town Council that — this year alone — FASTC will need 81,720 hotel nights to house its trainees. At $90.00 per night, that equates to $7.3 million just for lodging.
Currently, the State Dept. is renting those rooms at 13 different hotels in Farmville, Short Pump, Midlothian, Richmond, Glen Allen, and Colonial Heights.
FASTC is eager to rent rooms closer to Pickett and to start buying less gas. Plus, from Blackstone’s standpoint, those trainees lodging outside the community don’t have time to come to town for dinner.
FASTC this fiscal year will train 8,675 trainees, and 10,000 per year are expected in following years. Courses range in length from three days to 17 weeks, with 90% of those courses lasting about a week.
VUMAC Moving Forward
The good news for Blackstone and FASTC is that plans are moving forward to renovate the former Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center. The 1922 Blackstone College building and 11.5 acres were recently sold by Louis DeNitto to Blackstone Hotel Partners, LLC of Chester for $875,000.
That LLC is affiliated with Kalyan Hospitality (Nick and Raj Patel), which earlier this year received re-zoning approval from Town Council to accommodate a planned $10 million venture to renovate the facility and transform it into a 110-room boutique hotel with restaurant, brewery, theater, gift shop, and movie theater.
Blackstone Town Council last week voted 7-0 to apply to the state for $600,000 in Industrial Revitalization Funds on behalf of the venture. A resolution states that the company is also planning to borrow an additional $6.4 million and spend another $1.5 million in personal capital to make the “VUMAC Hotel Adaptive-Reuse 2020 project” a reality.
The Town resolution states further, “It is projected that 25 full-time equivalent positions, such as housekeeping, food/ beverage, and maintenance will result.”
Blackstone is also working with Nottoway County on an application for additional funds from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
FASTC was first announced for Pickett in July 2011 and the $450 million facility opened last November. Many locals are still surprised that during the past nine years, no hotel has been built in or near Blackstone.
‘Nothing’ On Rt. 40
Meanwhile, the Nottoway Economic Development Committee (EDC) last Thursday night was informed that the Nottoway Commons property on Rt. 40 between Blackstone and Pickett remains idle.
Nottoway County sold the 72-acre site in 2017 to Orlando, Florida developer Miami Gomez for $310,000.
In September 2018, Gomez briefed the EDC and Planning Commission on his plans to build a 102-room hotel, followed by two 150-room hotels, along with nearby shops. Those hotels would open in 2020, he said.
Assistant County Administrator John Prosise last Thursday night told the EDC that he last communicated with Gomez on June 18th and that Gomez reports difficulty — during the COVID pandemic — finding interested hotel operators.
Prosise further reported that he’s asked Gomez to either remove or replace his “Nottoway Commons” banners, which for two years have touted the coming attractions.
Prosise said those banners “are starting to feel like a lot of us feel — tired and wornout that nothing’s happened at that property.”