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Second SOVA Innovation building, VIR water funded

News & Record
South Boston, VA
January 12, 2023

The Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission has approved nearly $1 million in grants to support two growth initiatives in Halifax County — construction of a SOVA Innovation Labs building next to the SOVA Innovation Hub in downtown South Boston, and a municipal water line running to Virginia International Raceway to solve the Alton track’s chronic water supply issues.

Members of the tobacco commission met Jan. 4-5 in Richmond to consider 29 funding requests in Southside and Southwest Virginia. The commission awarded $400,000 for SOVA Innovation Labs and $546,029 for the VIR water line project.

The $400,000 grant award to the SOVA Innovation Hub Corporation will support the construction of a second building on Wilborn Avenue next to the existing Innovation Hub. The Innovation Labs building will be designed to foster entrepreneurial activity, small business development, and collaboration among regional and state partners “to find innovative solutions to the complex challenge of creating economic equity for Southern Virginia,” according to a staff summary of the project.

The tobacco commission previously awarded an $85,300 grant to help pay for the architectural and engineering work on the new Labs building, which would feature many of the same design touches as the existing Hub. The Labs will contain four key components: digital makerspace, community spaces, coworking offices and outdoor spaces.

The campus will fill an open space in downtown South Boston along Wilborn Avenue and “support the region’s emerging identity as a rural technology hub,” according to the staff summary.

The $400,000 award will supplement other money for the building’s construction: a hoped-for grant of $1,688,860 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and a $900,000 investment by the SOVA Innovation Hub Corporation.

The Innovation Hub is owned by Mid-Atlantic Broadband, which has its offices housed in the building’s second floor. The ground floor contains community spaces, offices and workspaces; it also serves as home to the Microsoft TechSpark initiative.

Completion of the new SOVA Innovation Labs building is anticipated by September 2024. The project will create 104 new jobs with an annual salary of $65,962, according to the staff summary.

The commission provided a second chunk of money to Halifax County last week: $546,029 to cover half the cost for the final design, permitting, easements and inspections for a municipal water line running out to VIR, which now draws its drinking water supply from groundwater wells.

The wells “are no longer reliable and [are] at a high risk of being insufficient,” according to the tobacco commission’s staff report. The proposed solution is a pipeline that would connect the Alton road racing track to Pittsylvania County’s Ringgold water system.

“The long term sustainability of a significant regional asset is a priority of Halifax County and the entire Southside region,” wrote staff about the VIR project. Halifax County is the grant recipient and fiscal agent for the tobacco funds.

After the $1.1 million cost of design and permitting, some $7.5 million will be needed to build the water line itself. Partners in the project are Halifax County and three public service authorities — in Halifax County, Pittsylvania County and the City of Danville. Their hope is to obtain $4 million from the State of Virginia and another $4 million in grant funds from the federal Economic Development Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, to pay for the water line construction.

“Without public water, VIR cannot host events or continue to invest back into its growth,” tobacco commission staff wrote in recommending the award to Halifax County.