An area nonprofit struggling to pay back local government loans has received a third extension from the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to allow more time for repayment.
At a meeting last week, the board granted an extension for the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center's $130,000 loan so the center can complete construction of its facility on the Rivanna River in Darden Towe Park. Some board members also raised the prospect of forgiving the loan entirely.
“We are currently completing inspections on the building, having passed all but plumbing, to assess the contractor’s work to date so that we can move forward with the project,” the center’s executive director, Alexandria Searls, said in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow.
The Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center focuses on the explorers’ historic expedition as an educational tool for exploration, transportation, the arts, science, the natural environment and native cultures.
Currently, most of the center’s programs have been put on hold until the construction of the main building is finished. Seasonal outdoor programs will continue through October.
Last year, Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville both made loans of $130,000 to the center to complete the building of the facility.
After the extension was granted, Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd suggested forgiving the loan.
“I’ve talked to [Charlottesville] Mayor Huja about this, and I would like for the staff to look into the forgiveness of this loan,” said Boyd, who also serves on the center’s board. “It wouldn’t be unprecedented, we’ve done it before.”
Searls said the center did not ask for forgiveness for the loan, only the extension.
“We have not gone to the county or the city for donated funding for over 10 years,” she said. “When we last got donated funding from the county and the city, it was for a feasibility study [to initiate] the [center].”
Boyd provided other examples of instances where loans were forgiven and said staff research and a discussion with the city would need to take place first.
“We could certainly bring this back to the board after talking to the city and looking into options for forgiveness,” said County Executive Thomas L. Foley Jr.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said she supports forgiveness of the loan and suggested that the staff should consider the positive things the center already has done with the money.
“A beautiful road has been constructed there, as compared to what used to be a bumpy pothole and dirt track,” Mallek said. “There are great improvements they have already made and I heartedly support this.”
The center is planning to provide several different programs for local children and adults, as well as tourists. Meriwether Lewis was born in Albemarle County and the location of the center is adjacent to the land that William Clark’s family lived on.
“This is going to help in our tourism and attract people to come here,” Boyd added.
He also emphasized that the center offers programs for children and how many community members participate in the summer programs.
The loan received from the county was originally due in October 2013 but the center was unable to raise the $130,000 in funds by the repayment deadline. The center already has requested and obtained two six-month extensions from the board.
The center now has until April 17 to repay the county loan. Loan forgiveness will be discussed at a future meeting.
Searls said the center’s programs would give them revenues to apply toward the loans.
“Our admission fees will generate income, as well as our leasing of the space for events and weddings,” she said. “We will be a big destination for school tours, and we already have school tours booked in 2015. We have also been running camps for over 10 years and generate income through them.”
Searls said she was gratified that forgiveness was discussed by the board.
“Loan forgiveness would allow us to better serve the public through additional staff hours,” Searls said. “A startup community resource has more challenges than an established tourist attraction.”
On Monday, Charlottesville’s City Council approved a similar extension for its loan to the center.
“This is an asset to our community and I think it always will be,” Boyd said.