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EDA in Focus

EDA $17.6 M lawsuit: Sheriff McEathron, McDonald, Donnie Poe, others named

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Sheriff Danny McEathron, who announced March 18 he would retire May 1, has bought $2,849,700 worth of real estate with former EDA director Jennifer McDonald since 2016/ File photo

In early 2018 Jennifer McDonald approached reporter Roger Bianchini with a story about three years of slot-machine casino winnings totaling over $2.1 million to help explain a cash-rich real estate business under scrutiny by Royal Examiner Editor Norma Jean Shaw.

FRONT ROYAL – Nine defendants were named in a civil case filed Tuesday in the Circuit Court of Warren County by the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority for their alleged involvement in the misappropriation of $17,640,446.16 of the authority’s money.

Defendants named in the case filed by Richmond attorney Daniel M. Siegel, with the Sands Anderson firm, are former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald, Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron, ITFederal principal Truc “Curt” Tran, ITFederal LLC, MoveOn8 LLC, DaBoyz LLC and Donald Poe and Justin Appleton, principals of Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC.

The complaint states that McDonald, who worked at the EDA for nearly 20 years – 10 of them as executive director – “engaged in a variety of schemes to unlawfully take money from the Warren EDA for her personal benefit” from at least 2016 to 2018.

The filing states that “McDonald stole from the Warren EDA, misused its financial assets, deceived its leadership, withheld necessary information from the Warren EDA, misappropriated Warren EDA assets for her personal aggrandizement, and conducted a years-long campaign of deceit and exploitation.”

It further states that “Defendant McDonald enjoyed, and abused, an extraordinary position of trust. There was no part of the Warren EDA’s operations, records, or financial affairs with which she was not familiar.”

Defendants “engaged in a variety of schemes and artifice to unlawfully enrich themselves at the expense of the Warren EDA,” the filing states and involve the following projects:

  • a. Work Force Housing – Royal Lane Property Embezzlements;
  • b. Afton Inn Project Embezzlements;
  • c. Criminal Justice Academy a/k/a Skyline Regional Training Academy;
  • d.  ITFederal Loan;
  • e.  Subsequent Payments to ITFederal;
  • f.  Unlawful Payments Concerning Earth Right Energy, LLC;
  • g.  Unlawful Payment of Town and Warren County Funds for Defendant McDonald Owned/Controlled Real Estate.

The filing states that McDonald has admitted to taking money from the Town of Front Royal and Warren County bank credits facilities for several purposes other than which they were intended. It notes that Defendant McDonald “often doctored and/or created false documents and then made or directed to be made false entries in the Warren EDA’s books and records to conceal the diverted monies.”

Moreover, the filing indicated that McDonald admitted via email on the day she resigned that she is liable for $2.7 million in EDA losses. According to the filing, she had agreed to pay that money back to the EDA by June 20, 2019 by either getting reimbursed by ITFederal, an unnamed private investor, and Earth Right Energy or pay it back herself.  She did not specify if  Sheriff McEathron was the unnamed investor, though the pair bought a number of properties together in excess of $2 million.

“The admission grossly undervalues the extent of her theft and unlawful distributions but is one indication of her consciousness of guilt in her conduct,” the filing notes.

The filing states that DaBoyz LLC, which was owned and operated by McDonald and Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron, purchased property at 2951 Rileyville Road in Page County for $554,427 through “credit facilities” belonging to the EDA.

According to the filing, on Sept. 14, 2016, the EDA wired $2 million to an account at First Bank and Trust to TLC Settlements LLC. That $2 million was subsequently paid to DaBoyz LLC. The filing says that DaBoyz LLC. then purchased several parcels of land.

The filing states that LLCs owned solely by McDonald or with McEathron “unlawfully diverted money” from the EDA through bank credit lines restricted for Front Royal and Warren County use.

The filing states that McDonald “authorized the wire transfer of money from a Warren EDA credit facility to the sellers of 1321 Happy Creek Road.  The wire transfer was for $1,007,672.84.” That property, the filing states, was “conveyed” to Moveon8 LLC, another company owned and operated by McDonald and McEathron.

The filing states that McDonald fraudulently altered invoices for payments on the Afton Inn project, resulting in the embezzlement charge.  McDonald doctored invoices for payments by United Bank that were supposedly used for the project. The filing states the invoices totaled over $50,000, though the project’s developer claimed those invoices were not submitted by the company.

The filing states that McDonald used that money to pay on her personal Sears credit card and Chase bank card accounts.

The filing also states that the Criminal Justice Training Academy a/k/a Skyline Regional Training Academy was “an artifice orchestrated to divert Warren EDA funds to personally benefit” McDonald, McEathron and Tran.

Curt Tran on site on Dec. 20, 2018, the day EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald tendered her resignation while under job performance scrutiny by her board.

The filing further states that of the $10 million loan to ITFederal, “little to no proceeds” were applied to the ITFederal project. Instead, it says that McDonald and Tran “converted all or a portion of the proceeds of the ITFederal loan to their own personal benefit.”

Regarding the Earth Right Energy Solar Commercial LLC project that would have put solar panels on county schools, the filing states that McDonald directed over $1.2 million be given to Poe’s company using lines of credit established for Front Royal and Warren County. $841,904 was for the installation of equipment that was never performed, according to Tuesday’s filing.

The filing further states that defendants caused the EDA to make transactions for equipment or enter into agreements with Earth Right Energy LLC that were not approved by the EDA.

McDonald, McEathron, Tran nor Poe could be reached via telephone for comment; contact information for Appleton could not be found.

An EDA news release issued Tuesday afternoon states that the board, like the community was “shocked by the breadth of these allegations.”

It went on to say that the board was “disappointed that these transactions didn’t come to our attention earlier through regularly scheduled annual audits, we commit to doing everything we can to ensure this does not happen again. We recognize that this board must regain the public’s trust while seeking to recover pubic funds and holding those responsible accountable for their actions.”

Under the leadership of interim executive director John Anzivino, the board stated in the release that it had “put into place new policies ranging from expense approvals to screening of employees. We’ve reinstated a loan committee and appointed a budget committee for additional oversight while expanding the scope of the audit committee. We’re also seeking more engagement of current board members and their understanding of the responsibilities and oversight duties of this unpaid, volunteer role as well as new members with new ideas and different perspectives.”

The EDA board and the Warren County Board of Supervisors have begun discussions to make the County the fiscal agent for the EDA effective July 1, 2019 the release stated, which would bring all financial transactions under the watch of Acting Warren County Treasurer Jamie Spiker, which would, the release stated, “provide additional layers of oversight, protection and accountability so we can focus on what we do best – growing our region’s economy.”

The release further stated, “While we’re taking important steps now to safeguard our future, let us not lose sight of the many accomplishments of the EDA in recent years showing our significant role in our community’s economic development. Such accomplishments include the growth in the expansion of existing industries as well as the ongoing development of two industrial parks, one former Superfund site and a technology park.”

Since the mid-1990s, the EDA says it has helped  create over 2,500 jobs and $500 million in investment in Warren County and the Town of Front Royal.

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EDA welcomes Town Manager Steven Hicks to meeting & gets good news from McDonald bankruptcy hearing

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Things appear to continue to be turning in a positive direction for the Warren County Economic Development Authority (WC-EDA) in the wake of the recent sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment by the 2 East Main LLC investment group. On the heels of that sale, authorized at a Special Meeting of February 12 and finalized a week later, the WC-EDA held its monthly meeting by way of the now familiar virtually connected ZOOM format the morning of Friday, February 26.

Two things stood out during the open session sandwiching a 57-minute closed session. The first was the welcoming of Town Manager Steven Hicks shortly after the 8 a.m. meeting start. It was the first appearance of a town manager with an accompanying update on Town business at an EDA Board of Directors meeting in about 18 months.

Beginning with the Afton Inn sale, it appears a newly thawed relationship between Town Hall, at right, and the WC-EDA has begun. It continued with Town Manager Steven Hicks presence at the Friday, Feb. 26, EDA Board meeting. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

That traditional line of communications was terminated during the tenure of former Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick as the town government took on an increasingly adversarial and litigious stance with the EDA as a revamped EDA board worked to right its ship in the wake of the $21-million-plus financial scandal alleged to have developed during the tenure of former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald.

EDA civil litigation gets reboot

The second positive note came post closed session during Board Chairman Jeff Browne’s Executive Committee Report. Browne acknowledged a decision by Harrisonburg-based U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Rebecca B. Connelly returning consideration of exactly what assets Jennifer McDonald can claim as part of her bankruptcy filing to the state court level.

“The bankruptcy court has remanded her particular case to state court to assess damages, at which point damages are assessed it will go back to the bankruptcy court to decide whether or not it should go back to the state courts or be handled in the bankruptcy court,” Browne told his board.

Contacted after the meeting, Browne elaborated on the implications of Judge Connelly’s ruling. He explained it will allow the EDA’s civil litigation against McDonald to re-start to determine exactly what EDA assets McDonald may have misappropriated and how they may have been used to purchase properties or other tangible assets. Her surviving real estate company MoveOn8 is also part of her bankruptcy filing, he noted.

The EDA’s civil litigation against Jennifer McDonald, on the job in December 2016 as the late Patty Wines, right, chairs meeting, and other co-defendants not in bankruptcy court, can once again proceed at the state level in the Warren County Courthouse.

When the state court findings are returned to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Harrisonburg, Judge Connelly will determine what assets McDonald can legitimately claim as her own that are subject to bankruptcy claims and asset distribution, versus what assets held by her or her real estate company the EDA would have civil claim to as restitution for her alleged criminal acts of embezzlement and misappropriation of EDA funds to her own use.

A virtual Town-EDA ‘lovefest’

Back on the Town-EDA relations front, EDA Board Chairman Browne welcomed Hicks by virtual connection, offering him the opportunity to give his report prior to adjournment to the closed session. And while an opening portion of that report was acknowledgment of the town council’s decision to move forward with creation of its own EDA with Hicks as executive director, that there was a renewed sense of Town-EDA cooperation was soon apparent.

“As town manager I’m here to help in any way I can,” Hicks told Browne and the four-member EDA Board quorum present virtually (Browne, Harold, Pattison, Wolfe), before reporting on the status of the Town’s FY-2022 Budget process.

“I just want to congratulate you on your new position. You must have found the secret to a 48-hour day,” Browne told Hicks at the conclusion of the town manager’s report. “I just want to tell you for our board, that anything we can do to help in the areas you’re focused on: redevelopment, tourism, retention of businesses are all good things that we look forward to working with FREDA (Front Royal Economic Development Authority) on.

EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne, above virtually at Friday’s EDA Board meeting, and Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks, below in file photo of recent council meeting, seem to be on the same page on cooperation between now separate County and Town EDAs.

“We would like to work with you and coordinate with the Town. I think that we can do a lot to help economic development for the entire area. So, we appreciate you’re stepping up and taking on what will be a challenging task,” Browne added of Hicks new dual role.

“Will do – I’ll definitely stay in contact and share everything as much as I can with you and Doug (EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons) and Ed (Warren County Interim County Administrator Ed Daley). So yea, sounds great,” Hicks replied.

At that point EDA Board member Jim Wolfe, who has taken point in his board’s work on development of short and long-term Strategic Planning on economic development and job creation, joined the conversation. Wolfe offered to get a copy of what the WC-EDA has done on that front recently to Hicks by Monday.

“Then you and I can sit down and talk about it at some point. And if any other board members want to join me … So, I want to make sure that the … Town has our plan and use that for a touch point for how you coordinate on different projects,” Wolfe said of developing a unified plan of action community wide.

EDA Board member Jim Wolfe jumped on the Town-County EDA cooperative bandwagon with an offer of added assistance from himself and other EDA board members, to Hicks in his new role as FREDA executive director.

“I’d appreciate that,” Hicks replied, perhaps seeing his “48-hour days” reduced in some measure by that level of County EDA involvement with his work on the Town side. Continuing in that vein of cooperation, Hicks added, “Again, I just wanted to call in (on ZOOM) and touch base with you all and be as transparent as I can. And always reach out to me when you need anything, and I’ll do the same.”

“Good, thank you so much,” Browne replied to the new attitude being reflected out of Front Royal Town Hall as Hicks signed off from the meeting.

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Summary of the Warren County EDA Board meeting of Friday, February 26

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The EDA Board of Directors conducted their regular monthly board meeting this morning, February 26, via Zoom. The Board welcomed Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks prior to going into Closed Session. Mr. Hicks noted that the Town’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2022 was being prepared. A summary overview was included in the board packet and digital copies of the 32-page presentation are available from the EDA office. Please contact Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson at 635-2182.

Board Chair Jeff Browne congratulated Mr. Hicks on his appointment to Executive Director of the Front Royal EDA and stated that the Board of the Front Royal Warren County EDA is looking for working with him.

Following an approximately 30-minuted Closed Meeting, the Board approved a motion on the disposition of McKay Springs. In order to facilitate and expedite the sale of parcels at the McKay Springs location, the Board approved transferring the parcels deeded in the name of the EDA to Warren County.

Continuing in Open Session, Jeff Browne gave a report from the Executive Committee. He advised the Board and the public that Warren County will be designated as a Spotted Lanternfly quarantine locality in mid-March, along with Clarke and Frederick counties, and the City of Winchester. This will impact businesses located in and doing business in Warren County. For more information please visit www.vdacs.virginia.gov/plan-industry-services.shtml

Director Jim Wolfe shared information on the progress of the EDA Strategic Plan updates. He’s looking forward to feedback on the working document and completing a final draft for review.

Asset Committee Chair Greg Harold discussed a new development that will have an impact on the EDA-owned property on Royal Lane. He shared the news that the Town of Front Royal is considering updating the Town Code to allow a Conditional Use Permit to be bonded with the property rather than the owner. With this change, Harold expects to improve the successful marketing of this property for a developer of multi-family workforce housing. The EDA is very interested in selling this property and supports the Town Planning Department in its efforts.

EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons had several items of interest to share, including the launch of the renovated EDA website at www.wceda.com, and that the auditors are finalizing their report. Additionally, he reported that the proceeds of $323,179.18 from the sale of the Afton Inn have paid down the principal on the First Bank & Trust Line of Credit. This lowered the payment, saving the taxpayers $1,242.70 per month, or $14,912.40 per year.

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EDA announces that the Afton Inn sale has been finalized

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The Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Town of Front Royal issued the following joint press release today, February 19, 2021:

On Friday, February 12, the Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board of Directors passed a resolution accepting a final sales price from developers 2 East Main, LLC of $325,000 for the purchase of the Afton Inn located in Front Royal’s downtown. The Board is pleased to announce that the settlement has taken place and the building has been sold!

This transaction came to fruition with the cooperation among the Town Council of Front Royal, Warren County Board of Supervisors, EDA, and the developer. The Board is grateful for the willingness of Town Council, and Warren County Board of Supervisors to focus on a goal that resulted in a “win” for everyone. EDA board members Greg Harold and Jeff Browne, plus EDA Legal Counsel Sharon Pandak, of Greehan, Taves, and Pandak worked hard to make this sale happen. The developers, Jim Burton and Alan Omar, had an unwavering commitment to the vision for this property.

“This is a privately funded transaction. It won’t cost County or Town taxpayers anything to transform the Afton Inn into a welcoming anchor building for visitors to Main Street,” said Jeff Browne, EDA’s chair.

Front Royal Mayor Chris Holloway welcomed the news of the sale. “On behalf of Council, I am proud to share in the celebration of the sale of Afton Inn and look forward to partnering with the developer to remove any barriers to restore and modernize this building expeditiously. The sale of Afton Inn marks an important milestone for our community as we continue to focus on redevelopment,” said Holloway.

(The EDA Board of Directors will have their regular February monthly board meeting via Zoom on Friday, February 26, 2021, at 8 a.m.)

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After year-and-a-half gap, town council catches up on EDA activity, in and out of town

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In restarting a public dialogue between the existing Economic Development Authority and the Front Royal municipal government on February 8, EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Brown reminded town officials of his observation to them on that last occasion 18 months earlier while the Town was still involved in a three-pronged effort with the EDA and Warren County to investigate and correct what allowed the now $24-million-dollar-plus EDA financial scandal to fester and develop over a several-year period.

Noting he had also been the one to give that report, Browne revisited it: “I said there was a catastrophic failure of oversight by the EDA, County, and Town with plenty of blame to go around*. I haven’t changed my view on that,” he said in opening.

After a positive exchange with new Town Manager Steven Hicks, EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne reintroduced the Front Royal Town Council to the dynamics and current status of the EDA as it continues to conduct business in and out of town. Royal Examiner Photos Roger Bianchini

“There was massive embezzlement, bad investments, poorly written agreements, and a dangerous system of overly centralized check writing and bookkeeping. It all set up for a perfect storm,” Browne echoed from his 2019 report to council, pointing to “insufficient checks and balances, lots of misplaced trust and weak verifications” – concluding, “You had a right to be concerned then.

But that was 18 months ago as the new EDA Board of Directors, with County, and initially, for a short time Town, assistance were already involved in dismantling, replacing, and rectifying the EDA structure as the financial scandal evolved under criminal and civil court scrutiny.

Of the direction since then, Browne pointed to installation of the very checks and balances previously missing, including County-mandated third-party bookkeeping, and “multiple eyes on all transactions”. He said the refurbished EDA Board had developed what he termed “a guns and butter strategy” that freed the new EDA staff – Executive Director Doug Parsons and Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson – to pursue economic development initiatives (butter), while the new EDA Board of Directors oversaw the legal and peripheral issues (guns).

File photo of an EDA Board meeting prior to departure of Gray Blanton, upper right, and Ed Daley, center-left, the latter to an ‘interim’ stint as WC Administrator from which he hopes to return to the EDA Board of Directors.

However, that year-and-a-half of “Guns and Butter” was a strategy the Town Council missed involvement with, choosing rather what one might term a “Lawyers, Guns and Money” strategy as so poetically described on our Opinion page recently by Fred Schwartz. The lawyers, guns (metaphorically of course) and money to a great degree were pointed directly at the EDA over the objection of then Mayor Gene Tewalt, who unsuccessfully recommended a policy of cooperation and rebuilding with the EDA and County, as opposed to a litigious one supported by council and pushed forward through the office of the former interim mayor and interim town manager.

Browne proceeded into detail on the EDA’s current holdings, in and out of the town limits, and explanations on the EDA’s attempt to divest itself of properties it “never should have been involved in” by the new board’s estimation.

Shot of the Stokes Mart building and adjacent apartments at 514-516 E. Main, one of the properties the new EDA has moved to divest itself of ownership of.

He also pointed to over a million dollars thus far recovered in insurance and settlements with involved parties in the EDA’s civil litigation.

He pointed to the recent recruitment of drone manufacturer Silent Falcon to the county; as well as the potential landing of an eastern regional medical marijuana manufacturer/distributor in Parallel LLC, that could bring a major commercial tax revenue source, along with hundreds of jobs to the county and town, not to mention the purchase of Baugh Drive warehouse the EDA hopes to divest itself of ownership of as soon as possible.

The sprawling warehouse at 426 Baugh Dr. currently has three short-term lease tenants, with a fourth in the wings, as well as at least one potential buyer on the horizon, as the new EDA works to clean up the real estate management situation it inherited.

The EDA Board Chairman pointed to a drive west for business relocation into the Valley that he said the EDA and County are working to take advantage of, utilizing advantages like the Interstate Highway system crossroads and Inland Port that are located here. Of working together to achieve the maximum result of that effort, Browne observed, “We either hang together or we hang separately”. As to the advantages of working together economically, Browne pointed to the pending sale of McKay Springs parcels that are jointly owned by the EDA, County and Town.

In response to queries, he admitted the EDA was currently financially insolvent due to repercussions of the financial scandal, and was being financially supported by the County at this time. However, some council members seemed surprised to learn that Warren County had not absorbed the EDA into its departmental structure, which could present a roadblock to the Town actively reengaging its continued membership in the half-century-plus old joint Town-County EDA. While the Town is currently advertising for applicants to a unilateral Town EDA Board of Directors, an EDA it would be totally responsible for the financial support of, the County has kept the EDA’s quasi-governmental, independent status open as a door by which the Town could reenter into active membership with the existing EDA.

While confrontational at times, the EDA board chairman’s exchanges with council and the mayor appears to have achieved dividends as illustrated by the late week move towards sale of the Afton Inn, below, for redevelopment. Above, Gary Gillespie during his Q&A with Browne.

And while some council grilling of Browne on details, particularly with pre-prepared written notes, took the tone of hostile cross-examination, the end result of Browne’s report and Q and A with council appeared, four days later, to be positive, as illustrated with the EDA’s Friday move toward the completion of the sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment without a Town challenge on the title to the property.

See the entire EDA presentation and back and forth with town officials in this video.

Footnote: As Royal Examiner has previously reported, while the Town has attempted to distance itself from any portion of “blame” for the EDA financial scandal due to its agreement to no longer have EDA board appointment authority after the County took over full EDA operational funding nearly a decade ago, it was heavily involved with in-town EDA operations throughout the financial-scandal timeframe. In fact, it was the town council that authorized a $10-million-dollar “bridge loan” to the EDA to help facilitate the bank loan for the ITFederal construction project at the Royal Phoenix Business Park at the former Avtex site. That $10-million loan said to have been acquired “under false pretenses” in the EDA civil litigation, is the largest single item in the EDA’s civil suit seeking the return of over $24 million in allegedly misdirected or embezzled EDA, County, or Town assets. In seeking the “bridge loan” then EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald told town officials that without that show of “community support” in fronting that $10 million for the ITFederal project in town, the bank was hedging on approval of the loan to ITFederal through the EDA. That was likely because, as Royal Examiner has also previously reported, other than the $2-million value of the 30-acre Avtex property parcel gifted to it for a dollar by the EDA in 2016, ITFederal listed assets of only about $20,000 in its loan application.

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EDA Board authorizes sale of Afton Inn as Town withdraws title claim

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“Can we sing Hallelujah now,” Economic Development Authority Board member Jorie Martin exuded following 5-0 roll call approval (Gordon absent) of a motion by Greg Harold, seconded by Martin, authorizing the sale of the Afton Inn property to developer 2 East Main LLC at a price of $325,000. The sale is to be accomplished upon signing of the Deed of Sale and necessary Title company documents “at the earliest possible time”.

Virtual jubilation, here it is EDA’s Greg Harold, was in order as the Town allowed the EDA sale for renovation of the Afton Inn property to proceed, without an ownership challenge on sales proceeds which are earmarked to pay part of the EDA Afton project bank loan off. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

The landmark achievement, in the works now well into last year if not longer as the EDA and Town negotiated some rocky legal terrain on a variety of fronts, was accomplished Friday afternoon following an approximate 45-minute Special Meeting Closed Session of the EDA Board of Directors convened shortly after 2 p.m.

Royal Examiner contacted EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne, who along with Board Secretary Greg Harold will sign the Afton Deed of Sale for the EDA, shortly after the 3:05 p.m. adjournment of the February 12 Special Meeting. “Is this a done deal, is the Town okay with this,” we asked Browne four days after an occasionally tense Monday night meeting exchange with Front Royal Mayor Chris Holloway on the dynamics of a potential Afton sale.

Yes, the EDA board chairman replied, explaining that subsequent communications with the Town this week enabled Friday’s action to proceed on the most recent extended 2 East Main LLC sales contract deadline date of February 12.

“To me this is symbolic that we’re working together to get some things done and getting the Afton Inn resolved is a good sign. And hopefully we’ll move on and get other things resolved as well,” Browne said of renewed EDA-Town communications.

A BIG Fix is coming – ‘Just’ when you were getting used to seeing this at the head of Front Royal’s Downtown Business District, soon it will be a little different (see below).

He noted that the EDA had received a letter from the Town indicating it would not dispute the EDA’s title claim to the Afton property ownership. And while there was some language in that message found somewhat “cloudy” by the Sterling-based title company or EDA counsel, a subsequent letter signed by Mayor Holloway dated February 12 promised that language would be clarified to remove any perceived ambiguity.

Browne pointed out the sales price is the originally discussed one that has fluctuated somewhat up and down over the months the sale was on hold due to variables involving both the EDA’s financial scandal civil litigation and Town questions over its ownership interest in the property.

As Browne noted during his February 8 report to the Front Royal Town Council, 2 East Main LLC plans to begin its massive renovation project within a year and hopes to complete the $2-million project within two years. See more detail on those renovation plans in Royal Examiner’s December 29 story “From Town Eyesore to Downtown Anchor: Reimagining the Afton Inn”

Above, 2 E. Main LLC graphic of its plan to restore and expand the Afton Inn, originally the Montview Hotel circa 1868, to become a high-end anchor building for downtown Front Royal. Below, Board of Architectural Review (BAR) members Angela Toler, Duane Vaughan and Nancy LeHew peruse 2 E. Main plans. The Town BAR recommended approval of those plans.

Also following Friday’s closed session, the EDA approved a short-term lease proposal on part of the Baugh Drive warehouse space with WOW Airlines. An initial three-month lease will be offered on 4400 square feet (s.f.) of warehouse space and 860 s.f. of office space, which includes a $1,000 security deposit and $900 utility payment, with month-to-month renewal options after the initial three-month period.

WOW Airlines would be the fourth short-term lease tenant in the sprawling Baugh Drive warehouse that the EDA eventually hopes to sell, possibly in relation to its connection to Parallel LLC’s bid to become the region’s medical marijuana distributor.

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EDA chairman’s reference to Royal Examiner Afton Inn redevelopment story leads to mayoral media attack – Why does that sound familiar?

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The Front Royal Town Council and staff got their first, face-to-face, first-hand, factual update on Town-County Economic Development Authority business in over a year on Monday, February 8. “I want to tell you how much we appreciate the opportunity to update town council and restart a dialogue on issues of mutual concern,” post-financial scandal revamped EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne said in opening that dialogue.

“It’s been a year-and-a-half since an EDA Board member addressed Town Council – it’s too long. We need to be talking, we have a lot of issues we have to address. This is a great start,” Browne said, acknowledging “other meetings” that led up to his appearance before council the second Monday of February 2021. Contacted later about that impetus, Browne told Royal Examiner that he had “reached out” to new Town Manager Steven Hicks in January.

Above, EDA Board Chairman Jeff Browne makes the first report to council in a year-and-a-half at the invitation of new Town Manager Steven Hicks, pictured below. “It’s too long. We need to be talking, we have a lot of issues we have to address,” Browne told Town Council. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini

“We had a good exchange of ideas while I briefed him on some issues on the immediate horizon. He then invited me to speak to Town Council, updating them on what the EDA was doing and to answer the question of whether EDA could help the Town buy properties,” Browne explained.

What turned into an approximate 50-minute report highlighted by some constructive back and forth with council, also had a less constructive moment. About 35 minutes into his EDA report, Browne got into an exchange with Mayor Chris Holloway on the topic of the prospective sale of the Afton Inn for redevelopment. It is a sale of the derelict and long-deteriorating Afton Inn next door to Town Hall at the head of Front Royal’s Historic Downtown Business District that Browne said he hopes will come to fruition by the new extended deadline approaching over the next week.

Browne pointed out that prospective buyer 2 East Main LLC has promised to start redevelopment within a year of purchase and complete it within two years. The Town is currently disputing the EDA’s ownership and ability to sell the Afton Inn without the Town signing off on a sale. It appears that despite the content of a disputed 2014 MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) between the Town and EDA indicating that the EDA would first recover whatever proceeds an Afton sale generated towards its expenditures in maintenance and marketing the property since 2014, that the Town is seeking the first call on those proceeds. The current proposed sale price of about $330,000 would not cover all those claimed EDA expenses.

Mayor Holloway pressed Browne on whether, were the involved bank, First Bank & Trust, willing to reconsider taking what the EDA owes on its Afton property/construction loan, would the EDA be willing to split the proceeds with the Town. Browne replied that to whatever extent that was legally supported he was on board. However, with the EDA’s claim of about $500,000 invested in the property since the 2014 property swap that extracted the Afton from the angry-at-the-Town hands of Northern Virginia developer Frank Barros in exchange for old Town Hall, there will essentially be nothing left over for either the EDA or Town from the pending sale after the bank takes its share to cover the EDA property/construction loan.

“But you have to understand our position – we basically gave up two buildings, two buildings, for what you’re saying we’re going to get nothing,” Holloway replied, adding, “And over $500,000 of work you say has been put into the Afton Inn so far, with a two-million-dollar completion to do it up right. I think anybody that could go buy that building right now would wonder where that $500,000 went.”

The mayor continued to wonder at the EDA’s numbers and the forecast cost of $2 million dollars for 2 East Main Street LLC’s renovation project, which building professional Holloway forecast might replace windows.

Mayor Holloway, above, called the proposed EDA sale of the Afton Inn and proposed $2-million rebuilding to be accomplished in two years by buyer 2 E. Main LLC a zero-sum return to the Town and its taxpayers. Wonder if downtown business owners feel the same. Holloway also questioned the EDA’s investment in the property, wondering where all the money went. Well, Mr. Mayor, it’s not a pile of bricks laying on the ground next to Town Hall.

When Mayor Holloway said, “I think the citizens of the Town deserve something out of this. We gave up the old Town Hall, we gave up the Afton Inn, and we’re getting basically nothing in return,” Browne attempted to respond twice to point to the 2 East Main LLC redevelopment plan replacing a festering eyesore with a new anchor building for Front Royal’s downtown business district. However, twice Holloway cut Browne off by continuing his line of thought, first that “There’s nothing to show for it yet” and then that “It’s been going on for over 10 years, if not longer” before Browne regained the floor.

“You are getting – I don’t know if you read the Royal Examiner article, but you’re getting a fabulous-looking” – Browne got out before Holloway again cut him off, commenting, “I don’t read the tabloids, I want facts.”

“Okay, well it’s factual what’s in there on that issue (of redevelopment plans). The developers, who are world-class developers, are the ones interested in doing it, and it will be a beautiful looking building,” Browne continued of the referenced December 29 Royal Examiner article on 2 East Main Street LLC renovation and expansion plan. – “From Town Eyesore to Downtown Anchor: Reimagining the Afton Inn”

Contacted later, Browne elaborated of the referenced article, “I was getting ready to point the Town Council to the Afton Inn article you wrote that outlined the vision of 2 East Main to rehab the Inn. I found it very factual and balanced.”

Above, graphic from Dec. 29, 2020, Royal Examiner story illustrating 2 E. Main’s planned restoration and expansion of the Afton Inn into a commercial and residential anchor building for Historic Downtown Front Royal. Below, the current status of the Afton Inn after over 15 years in limbo. Will the mayor and council continue to block the sale and renovation? – Stay tuned to Mayor Holloway’s ‘favorite tabloid’ news destination for the answer.

But facts that don’t merge with certain politician’s personal agendas or self-serving worldviews have been typically dismissed as “fake news” or “tabloid journalism” 70 miles to our east in recent years. Now it seems some of our local elected officials with “alternate fact” laced agendas have learned the “bait the media” game from their political mentors to the east.

Watch the Town Council meeting here.

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Upcoming Events

Mar
3
Wed
9:00 am Community Blood Drive @ Front Royal Fire and Rescue Department
Community Blood Drive @ Front Royal Fire and Rescue Department
Mar 3 @ 9:00 am – 2:00 pm
Community Blood Drive @ Front Royal Fire and Rescue Department
The Front Royal Police Department is sponsoring a blood drive on Wednesday, and all eligible donors are encouraged to log onto redcrossblood.org to schedule a donation of the GIFT OF LIFE! Jeff Farmer and the[...]
9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mar 3 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]
Mar
9
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 9 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
13
Sat
10:00 am HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
Mar 13 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
The Humane Society of Warren County “Polar Plunge” delayed from February 20 due to “too-polar” weather here in northwestern Virginia has been rescheduled to Saturday, March 13 – Don’t worry, it will still be a[...]
Mar
16
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 16 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
23
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 23 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
28
Sun
2:00 pm Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 28 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Come join the staff of Warren County Parks and Recreation and get your picture taken with the Easter Bunny! Pictures will be taken and printed on site; upon departure you will be given an Easter[...]
Mar
30
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 30 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Apr
3
Sat
12:00 pm Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 3 @ 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Eggs are popping up all over Sky Meadows State Park. Visit our egg-laying free-range chickens by taking our Chicken Walk. Go on an egg-citing Geocache adventure. Kids, use your scavenger hunting skills using clues from[...]
Apr
17
Sat
all-day Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Apr 17 all-day
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
This tried and true Epic 24-hour AR will test your biking, paddling, trekking, and navigation skills as you explore two state parks (one of them brand new!) and national forest lands. Join soloists and teams[...]