The money will go towards streetscape improvements, facade and/or grounds work at the Fieldale Recreation Center (formerly the Fieldale Community Center) and any other needed areas within the Fieldale business district, according to Mary Ann Mason, grant administrator for Henry County.
“We work to positively impact the lives of those around us every day, but when we are an active part of an effort that focuses public and private resources on a common goal, we believe that’s when constructive changes start to happen,” said David A. Golden, president of the Eastman Foundation and senior vice president, chief legal & sustainability officer, and corporate secretary at Eastman. “To work with others to create new opportunities for a community and its citizens is at the heart of Eastman’s corporate responsibility focus. We are excited to be a part of this effort.”
The Smith River Small Towns Business District Revitalization Project targets buildings, streetscapes and other features along an area called “Fifteen Magical Miles” in Fieldale, Bassett, Stanleytown and Koehler. Those miles follow the roads and the Smith River where the furniture and textile industries once thrived.
Some of those businesses have left, but people’s creativity, resiliency and other strengths remain, according to Henry County administrator Tim Hall. “There is something magical about that stretch which the collaborative seeks to tap,” Hall said.
Hill Studio has completed survey and conceptual work in Bassett and Fieldale, Hall said. Work also is being done on the former Bassett Historic Train Depot. “In the end, it will look like it never did before,” Hall added. “The Eastman money allows us to continue that progress throughout the whole project.”
For Eastman, investing in the project is a matter of being part of the area where it has an advanced film manufacturing plant. “This isn’t just where we work – it’s where we live and play,” said Eastman’s Fieldale plant site manager Pat Caldarera. “We want to be part of this area’s revitalization and growth.”
Eastman employs more than 700 people at its sites in Henry County. The plants manufacture high performance film used in automotive and architecture.
Tanya Smith Foreman, education initiatives manager for Eastman and a native of Henry County, knows the area’s history firsthand. Her parents worked in Fieldale and many of her relatives worked at DuPont. “I remember watching companies leave to move their operations outside the United States and the job losses as they closed their local plants,” Foreman said.
In addition to economic development, Eastman has also made investments in Henry County’s secondary and post-secondary education institutions. “It is the right thing to do because whenever we are in a community, we want to be an active contributing part of that community,” said Foreman.
Foreman said the revitalization underway in Fieldale and Bassett makes her feel proud to come home and to know that Eastman is so involved and investing funds, volunteer hours, and expertise. She added that she believes when the Fieldale project is done, the area will be even better than it was in the past.
Shawn Pace, the site manager of Eastman’s plant at the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek Industrial Park, said the revitalization project is a great example of the way a community can partner with industry.
The first phase of the Smith River Small Towns Business District Revitalization Project is estimated to cost $3.2 million. In all, it is projected to include façade improvements to eight buildings in Bassett and eight buildings in Fieldale; the creation of town squares in both communities; renovations to the Fieldale Recreation Center; renovations to the Bassett train depot; and streetscape improvements in both communities, among other items.
Jeb Bassett, the Bassett co-chairman of the collaborative, said Phase 1 work in Bassett will include work to the Reed Stone Street block, the depot and a former service station at the corner of Fairystone State Highway and Bullock Road. The service station’s interior has been renovated using money from Bassett Furniture Industries, Bassett said. Smith River Outfitters has leased the building for its operations and also applied for facade funds from the collaborative, he added. Funds for façade improvements are also scheduled to be used for this renovation.
Interior work on buildings in the Reed Stone block is being done by different building owners, and the depot’s roof was replaced in early spring, Bassett said. He praised Eastman’s donation and the work it will cover in Fieldale. “From the inception, the idea was to create two town centers” bound by the Smith River and trails, he added.
Henry County received a $700,000 Community Development Block Grant to partially fund the first phase of the project, and the Appalachian Regional Commission awarded a $500,000 grant to renovate the Bassett Historic Train Depot. Funding commitments also have come from The Harvest Foundation, $780,000; Bassett Furniture Industries, $150,000; and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), $200,000.
Mark Heath, president/CEO of the EDC, said his agency wanted to be involved with the revitalization project in part because of the tourism potential of the Fifteen Magical Miles area.
He noted that “more than half a million people go to Philpott Lake every year. They go right up and down that stretch of magical miles and we’re not capturing enough of this” spending for gas, food, and other amenities.
Future phases of the Smith River Small Towns Business District Revitalization Project will include more streetscape and façade improvements, trail links, the creation of venues to attract tourists in Bassett and Fieldale and signage in Stanleytown and Koehler.