An innovative, multi-government-agency rural revitalization project recently received $2 million in private funding in Middlesex County, Virginia. Backers hope it will create at least 20 new jobs in the somewhat-isolated Cook’s Corner area in southeastern part of the state on Chesapeake Bay, while adding affordable housing, restoring heritage, boosting nature tourism, and growing the economy.
“I am very proud of the partnership by Middlesex County, Middlesex EDA, Middlesex School Board, Middlesex Foundation, and Cook’s Corner Partners to bring this project to fruition—they are a cohesive group of visionaries that have acted to create a thriving village at Cook’s Corner,” said Chairman of the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors Mark E. “Chip” Holt, III.
“The revitalization includes a new public nature trail and Middlesex County’s first craft brewery and restaurant with event capabilities. Much needed workforce housing will give our schools an incentive to attract County employees,” he added.
The project by Cook’s Corner Partners includes a new commissary kitchen located in the former Rappahannock Central Elementary School cafeteria in addition to a new brewery and restaurant in a relocated and renovated historic African American schoolhouse, formerly known as St. Clare Walker High School.
“By taking a comprehensive, whole-of-community approach to rural development, matching new jobs with new housing and private investment with public support, we are helping build vibrant communities and enhance the quality of life in localities across the Commonwealth,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam.
“This portion of the Cook’s Corner revitalization project builds on a number of other components aimed at injecting vitality into this region, and we are grateful for all of the hard work—from state and local government to our partners in the private sector—in support of this effort,” he continued.
Over the next three years, the brewery and commissary kitchen will source over half of all their agricultural inputs, such as seafood, meat, produce, and hops from Virginia, totaling nearly $600,000 in purchases. Cook’s Corner Partners, LLC is investing the money as a component of a larger Cook’s Corner joint venture by Travis Croxton of Rappahannock Oyster Company and Jay Shah of Shamin Hotels.
“The investment to establish a new commissary kitchen and brewery at Cook’s Corner is great news for Middlesex County,” said Senator Ryan McDougle. “This is yet another example of the economic progress we have seen take off in the Middle Peninsula.”
The Cook’s Corner revitalization project will also include the renovation and repurposing of two historic school buildings, the establishment of new community facilities, and the construction of water and sewer infrastructure.
In addition, 24 units of affordable, workforce housing will be created by 2020 to help attract and retain skilled workers in the region. The housing units will be open to all residents and employees from adjacent counties, with teachers, law enforcement officers, and public employees targeted to fill many of these residences.
“Cook’s Corner is a highly impactful and transformative project with multiple state, federal and private resources working towards one common goal: creating a vibrant and sustainable community,” said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball. “This revitalization effort will produce affordable workforce housing, create new jobs and new tax revenue, and expand vital infrastructure through new water and sewer lines.”
The Cook’s Corner project to date has received funding from multiple state and federal resources. Governor Northam approved a $100,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund, which is administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), and will be matched by funds from Middlesex County.
“We are incredibly excited to help bring this project to life in Middlesex County,” said owners of Cooks Corner Partners Travis Croxton and Jay Shah. “We are especially proud to be preserving and bringing new life to the old St. Clare Walker school, restoring its role as a central gathering place for this community, while also creating a destination experience that will bring more visitors to our great county.”
In addition, the governor approved $2.25 million in Vibrant Community Initiative funding and $480,000 in Industrial Revitalization Fund awards, both administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and $215,000 through a Community Impact Grant from the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA).
“This project is a perfect fit for our area and will be a win in both tourism and economic development,” said Delegate Keith Hodges.
VHDA will also provide permanent loan financing for the affordable housing units, which totals approximately $2.2 million. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development will provide loan and grant funding.
“This visionary investment by the innovative Cook’s Corner team, along with their commitment to feature Virginia-grown products, demonstrates the revitalizing impact our agriculture and seafood industries can have on the Commonwealth,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring.
“This project sets an example for how state agencies, local governments, and private companies can come together to bring vitality to Virginia communities, while also supporting our farmers and watermen,” she concluded.
Photos courtesy of Middlesex County, Virginia.