Artisan center planned for Rockbridge County

AWASAW Artisan Center would be located near the Raphine exit on Interstate 81

January 23, 2013|David Seidel | Assignment Manager

RAPHINE, Va. — Developers hope a new artisan center will become a gateway attraction to Rockbridge County and the Shenandoah Valley.  They announced plans for the AWASAW Artisan Center Wednesday morning.

The facility will be built near the Raphine exit on Interstate 81.  It would cost $11 million and is expected to open in the summer of 2014.  Developers, including former Rockbridge County Supervisor Bobby Berkstresser, say the center would be similar to the popular Heartwood Artisan Center in Southwest Virginia and Tamarack in West Virginia.

Here is the complete announcement:

LEXINGTON, VA. (January 23, 2013) - Longtime Rockbridge County businessman and former county supervisor Bobby Berkstresser has announced that he and a group of Shenandoah Valley investment partners are finalizing plans for a major new $11 million regional artisan and cultural center - AWASAW Artisan Center - expected to open in summer 2014. The Center will be strategically located on eight acres at the Raphine interchange just off Interstate 81/64 exit 205 in northern Rockbridge County.

“We intend for this Center to become a complete destination in itself - an attractive, must-do gateway to Rockbridge County for travelers from all over the nation,” said Mr. Berkstresser. “They’ll be able to enjoy everything from hands-on artisan demonstrations, live music, and Virginia-grown foods to nature trails and other outdoor experiences. And they’ll take away memories that will keep them and their loved ones coming back to the best part of the Shenandoah Valley.”

AWASAW Artisan Center, designed along the lines of the popular Heartwood and Tamarack artisan centers, will provide travelers an affordable, enjoyable, memorable cultural and culinary experience of the beautiful, historic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia - thereby supporting and promoting local cottage industries such as farmers, winemakers, artists, and other craftspeople.

The facility will include: an artisan demonstration area showcasing handcrafts such as weaving and fiber arts; a Virginia arts and crafts retail center; the new Virginia National Guard Museum; a high-tech tourist information center serving all of Virginia and particularly the Shenandoah Valley; a “Taste of Virginia” culinary experience and Virginia-made food and wine shop; a frozen dessert parlor and food court featuring seasonal foods prepared in the Southern tradition; an “Experience Virginia” plasma-screen theater; and a fun, family-friendly experiential science exhibit. The center will also offer ample space to host public and private events.

Chairman of the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors Ronnie Campbell noted that the planned artisan and cultural center would equate to a boost in the local economy: “Mr. Berkstresser and his partners are making their vision a reality, and that’s good for all of us locally. We want to see Raphine and all of Rockbridge County become even more widely known as a destination for travelers. This smart development will give folks one more excellent reason to merge off the interstate - ultimately supporting local businesses and contributing to our local economy.”

Mr. Berkstresser’s partnership, known as AWASAW Partners LLC, has reached out to businesses in the Shenandoah Valley and around Virginia to plan the new Center. Lexington, Va. firm Perkins & Orrison is developing the site plan, to include road upgrades and utilities layout. First Design of Waynesboro, Va. is designing the building floor plan and elevations.

As part of the economic impact study included in the project’s planning, the partnership will also conduct a traffic survey in spring 2013 at the I-81/64 exit 205 interchange. The group projects that the new Center could attract as many as 500,000 travelers annually once the facility is completed and widely publicized.

With planned parking for 15 buses and recreational vehicles, and over 200 cars, the Center is intended to be a premier attraction for travelers along one of Virginia’s busiest highways, while preserving ample “green space” to maintain the local environment’s beauty and biodiversity. An adjacent 160-acre commercial park to support the new cultural and artisan center will accompany the center’s construction.

Officials and experts from around the Commonwealth of Virginia, and within Rockbridge County, participated in a three-year study to decide if such an artisan center would dovetail well with state and local environmental, economic, and tourism plans. State officials in the community development, transportation, and tourism fields have pledged to support the Center with marketing and signage initiatives and with inclusion on the Virginia Artisan Trail, which is currently in development.

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