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Henrico officials reflect on the past year’s development

John Vithoulkas speaks at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Henrico County manager John Vithoulkas gives remarks during Henrico’s annual State of the County address on Thursday, November 16, 2023 in Henrico, Virginia.

Tourism industry continues to evolve as environmental projects move forward.

The Henrico High School Marching Band played "Before I Let Go" to open an annual event where county officials offered a snapshot of the past year.

Thursday’s State of the County address was hosted by Henrico's Economic Development Authority at the nearly complete Henrico Sports and Events Center. County Manager John Vithoulkas said the development exemplifies Henrico’s dedication to providing quality services for its residents and employees.

“Team Henrico, you make us proud,” he said. “And [to] every resident that comes into this building, every employee, I don't know how you can leave without that feeling of pride.”

Vithoulkas and others provided an overview of what various local agencies have achieved over the past year and what’s to come as three new members are set to join the Board of Supervisors in January.

New leadership takes the reins

Following the November election, three new faces will join the Board of Supervisors and three longtime leaders will depart.

Patricia O’Bannon, of the Tuckahoe District, and Frank Thornton, of the Fairfield District, will retire at the end of the year after each served the county for over two-decades. Their replacements — Democrats Jody Rogish and Roscoe Cooper — will take the reigns in the respective districts.

The Three Chopt District also welcomes a new face, as Democratic candidate Misty Whitehead defeated two-term Republican incumbent Tommy Branin, flipping the county’s 3-2 Republican majority to a 4-1 Democratic majority.

The outgoing supervisors received a round of applause from about 100 guests Thursday. Though their departure will be “bittersweet,” Vithoulkas said, their work did not go unnoticed.

Romanello gives remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Anthony J. Romanello, Executive Director of Henrico Economic Development Authority, gives remarks during Henrico’s annual State of the County address on Thursday, November 16, 2023 in Henrico, Virginia.

Henrico's long-term projects

This year marks the completion of some of the county’s long-term investments in public infrastructure and the development of new projects.

Back in 2016, Henrico voters approved five bond referendums for about $420 million in capital improvements for the county. Over the past several years, residents have started to see the impact of those investments.

Henrico’s completed new athletic fields and renovations to public spaces like Glover Park in the Brookland District and Tuckahoe Creek Park. There's also a multimillion dollar pickleball court.

The county also began construction of new public safety buildings with the recent groundbreaking on a Varina District police station. Work on its portion of the 43-mile Fall Line Trail in Lakeside also began.

“You know, many local governments are tapping the brakes when it comes to infrastructure spending … . Ladies and gentlemen, not Henrico,” Deputy County Manager W. Brandon Hinton said. “When this county makes a promise, it delivers.”

The county looks to do the same next year as Henrico anticipates receiving a portion of the $511.4-million in bonds approved by residents in 2022 for education, public safety, recreation and drainage projects.

County homeowners this year also received over $26 million in tax relief. And county employees are set to see wage increases of around 8.2% when the new fiscal year begins.

Bickmeier smiles
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Dennis Bickmeier, Executive Director of the Henrico Sports and Entertainment Authority, listens during Henrico’s annual State of the County address on Thursday, November 16, 2023 in Henrico, Virginia.

Focus on environment, development

This year, the county renewed its commitment to environmental sustainability through its reforestation program, administered by Henrico’s Environmental Action Resource Team, and work on the $280-million Cobbs Creek Reservoir development.

Henrico continued to develop its tourism sector, according to the county’s EDA Director Anthony Romanello. A recent Axios report showed that Henrico collected $1.7 billion in “direct visitor spending” last year.

With the addition of the sports and entertainment center in the Virginia Center Commons area and potential for a 17,000-seat arena development as part of GreenCity, Romanello said Henrico could outperform those numbers.

“The pandemic has changed our world, for sure,”Romanello said. “But it never slowed us down, and Henrico’s economy never stopped going.”

The EDA was also assisted by the creation of Henrico’s Sports & Entertainment Authority, headed by Executive Director Dennis Bickmeier — who bolstered the county’s growing number of recreational facilities and attracted events like the A-10 Women’s Basketball Championship earlier this year.

“Our mission is clear: To strategically pursue, attract and host events that enhance the economic, social and cultural vitality of our community by welcoming residents and visitors to world class venues within Henrico County,” Bickmeier said. “It's all about creating opportunities and enhancing our quality of life.”

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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