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South Side Gets Spruce-Up from Philip Morris Deal

Now a byproduct of the deal will mean that an industrial and worn-looking neighborhood with "infrastructure issues" will get $2 million in improvements for things like streetlights, sidewalks and trees, says John Woodward, director of economic development for the city.

At play is what's called the Governor's Opportunity Fund, a state incentive to attract big enterprise, done in conjunction with the locality benefiting from the project. In this case there are two: Henrico County, where the headquarters are located; and Richmond, where the manufacturing plant is. Terms called for the state to give Philip Morris $3 million with each locality contributing its share to match it. Henrico had to kick in $1 million. Because the $250 million upgrade — 80 percent will be for new machinery and equipment — in Manchester is more than the roughly $50 million it spent in Henrico, the city's contribution is $2 million.

In all, Philip Morris gets $6 million up front.

"We're using our $2 million instead of giving them a check for $2 million," Woodward says. The result, he says, "benefits not only Philip Morris but others in the area. This is a great deal for us."

City officials met with Philip Morris execs to discuss "what they'd like to see" in neighborhood improvements, Woodward explains, and whether the money could be used instead in a mutually beneficial way. Philip Morris agreed to improvements instead of the direct payout, he says.

The $2 million will be spent on widening Commerce Road in the stretches from Walmsley Boulevard to Bells Road, upgrading traffic signals, fixing rampant drainage problems, improving streetscapes and installing sidewalks.

"We're replacing a sewer line and planting Holly and Crepe Myrtle trees," Woodward adds. The city is organizing the details such as bid proposals for contracts. Work should begin in the next few months, and must be completed by June 30, 2006, the deadline for all parties involved in the deal to make good on their promises. — Brandon Walters

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