Blue Ridge Heritage’s first step was to undertake a gap analysis—a market study designed to identify visitor preferences and opportunities that were not already being met in our region. In 2007 BRH engaged the services of a team of marketing faculty and graduate students from Virginia Tech and Clemson University. The study team reviewed the collected citizen recommendations and surveyed both on-site and potential visitors to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the bi-county region, primarily during the spring, summer, and fall of 2008. From this input they distilled those BRH/Rocky Knob Project members’ concepts that addressed the visitor needs identified by the gap analysis, projected potential visitation and income that the project might generate, and provided specific project recommendations with supporting documentation. This document was made widely available to tourism, governmental, and nonprofit entities throughout the region. This process led to the creation of the Blue Ridge Heritage Education Center vision, and the Gateway concept of a building that is not a destination but rather a starting point for visitors to explore more deeply the assets of the bi-county region. In addition, the group settled on an educational outreach that would focus on the Century of Change, to educate residents and visitors alike about the cultural heritage of the region from 1900 - 2000. The Center is designed to rally the resources of both counties to not only serve visitors, but also county residents—to share our natural, cultural, and recreational resources. It will operate year-round.
With the theme and purpose in mind, the next step was to select a site for the Center in keeping with the legislation that funded these first stages of planning and concept development. Options were further narrowed by the programmatic needs of the educational outreach that organizers envisioned. In addition, the nature of the funding dictated that no payment in gross excess of the professionally, independently appraised market value would be allowed by the fund administrator, VDOT.
A search committee selected and evaluated 13 potential sites, working from real estate listings. The group advertised the land-purchase effort in local newspapers. Late in the process, we began discussions with an owner whose property met both the BRH Education Center’s program needs and those of the federal procurement process. This qualifying site was selected and the land was purchased in August, 2012.
The Master Plan
The development of a Master Plan for the site, as well as existing, and envisioned facilities, including design concepts for the main Gateway Visitor Center: The Blue Ridge Heritage Education Center. Begun late in 2013 with the services of Hill Studios, an architectural and planning firm that assembled a team of architects, designers, engineers, exhibit designers, land-use and design professionals, and others, the Master Plan documentation was completed in late 2014, and some auxiliary materials (physical model, video, elevations) were delivered during 2015. The presentation materials will be used to undertake capital fund raising to construct the main facility and to develop the entire property.
The BRH/Hill Studio Master Plan and design concepts were made available to the public in April 2016, and in June
BRH Education Center's
Master Plan (abridged)
2016 Outstanding Plan by a Nonprofit Award
Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association