The project planned for the old Valleydale plant. Courtesy of City of Salem.

The City of Salem announced Tuesday a $50 million venture to transform the old Valleydale Meat Packing and Processing plant – shuttered since 2006 – into more than 300 upscale apartments with a variety of resort-style amenities.

Calling it the most transformative economic development project in Salem’s recent history, Mayor Renee Turk said that within 20 years the city is projected to recoup its $10 million investment in the project plus at least an additional $19 million. 

“We actually hired a consultant to do an evaluation based on the number of units and what that would mean for meals taxes, property taxes, and so on,” Turk said. “And that’s a conservative estimate because we wanted to be conservative, because it’s better to exceed expectations.”

The project is led by Valleydale Catalyst, LLC and its principals Ed Walker and Joe Thompson. Walker’s previous redevelopment projects include the historic Patrick Henry Hotel in downtown Roanoke, the Grandin Village CoLab, and the Cotton Mill apartments created out of the old Virginia Mills Building. He also has been active in redevelopment in Danville.

The Valleydale property is located on the corner of Indiana and 8th streets less than a half mile from the Salem Civic Center, Kiwanis Field, and the Rotary Dog Park. 

The redevelopment plan for the old Valleydale plant. Courtesy of City of Salem.

“It’s a great addition to that part of the city,” said Turk. “For young professionals and families, it will be a great boost in housing for us and just being able to provide amenities that come along with it. It’s walking distance to downtown, it’s close to the river and greenway, it’s an ideal spot for people to be and we’re really excited about it evolving the way it has.”

And evolve, it has. 

“I knew it would be my most challenging project to date,” said Walker, who purchased the site in 2017 and tried in vain for years to find a suitable use or tenant for the building.

“We’ve worked through dozens of possibilities over the past five years originally hoping to use state and federal historic tax credits,” said Walker in a City of Salem news release. “Some were commercial and industrial prospects, but modern manufacturers and processors have very different needs and requirements these days.”

The original 23,000-square-foot facility was built in 1936 and in 1948 two additions were added to the structure, taking its footprint to more than 120,000 square feet. It employed thousands of workers for decades until Valleydale closed the plant in 2006.

“The haphazard nature of the multiple additions made it impossible to walk from one end of the building to the other in a straight line, so we understand why finding a new tenant has been such a challenge,” said Salem City Manager Jay Taliaferro in the release. “It needs a lot of remediation from its prior use and let’s not forget that it sits in the floodplain.”

Walker and Thompson will invest at least $50 million in the site, according to the release, and they plan to build between 300 and 330 units spread out in three buildings with amenities that will include a pool and terrace area, club rooms, a gym, dog run, car and pet washing areas, large green spaces, garage, covered and surface parking, extensive landscaping, and many other features.

“As with all these projects, whether a rehab or new construction, we simply want to be good stewards, to honor the past and build community and structures for a healthy future,” says Walker. “As at River House in Wasena and elsewhere, it’s going to be amazing to watch the gradual positive transformation over the next many years.”

Salem’s investment will come in the form of a tax rebate incentive grant and site development grant, says Turk. 

According to the release, the three-tiered, $10 million incentive package will be funded primarily from revenue that is generated from the project. The present real estate tax assessment of Valleydale is $1.27 million. That tax value figure is expected to rise to more than $40 million at the conclusion of construction.

“This combination of incentives will provide the catalyst needed to enhance all of the East Bottom section of Salem,” says Dave Robbins, Salem Economic Development Authority Chairman. 

Valley Catalyst, LLC plans to begin demolition and site preparation this December, as soon as the architectural and engineering plans are completed. By the spring of 2023, construction should be underway with a tentative completion date set for 2025.

Walker is planning to rehabilitate the Peacock Salem building in Salem, according to the news release, and he and his associates were responsible for rehabilitating the former West Salem Body Shop on Main Street and turning it into a combination boutique hotel and restaurant that is now a downtown destination for visitors and residents.

“With Salem being landlocked,” says Turk, “we’ve known all along that you have to develop and redevelop what you have currently to best serve the people in this city. Having an apartment complex like this is critical. It’s going to be a great boost for downtown.”

Michael Hemphill

Michael Hemphill is a former award-winning newspaper reporter, and less lauded stay-at-home dad, who has spent the last 20 years becoming an entrepreneurial nonprofit leader in Southwest Virginia. He is...