The winding road of the Royal Virginian Golf Course’s post-golf existence has taken another turn.
Part of the former 250-acre Goochland County course, which has been closed since 2018, has been purchased in recent months by a local nonprofit which plans to convert the site into a memorial for those who died from the COVID.
Behind the idea is Arlene Simmons, whose nonprofit Humanitarian Ambassadors of America Community Development Corp. bought 151 acres from Royal Virginian in late May for $750,000.
“Once we saw the property and actually stood there, it was an eye opener that this was, as I said, the promised land,” Simmons said.
Simmons’ vision for the memorial, which she has dubbed the Gardens of Tranquility, includes memorial walls of legacy and love, as well as rock gardens, water features, vegetable gardens and educational programs. .
It will be a game changer for a property that has seen its ups and downs for most of the past decade.
The course fell into foreclosure in 2011 and sold for $525,000, before being bought and closed by an entity connected to Charlotteville businessman Justin Beights in 2018 for the same amount he just sold it for – $750,000.
Beights had sought to let nature take its course at Royal Virginian in part by planting trees on the property and capitalizing on nutrient tax credits from various government programs.
After doing some of that, Beights then considered converting the old clubhouse on the course into a rehab home through his other business Turning Point.
But before following through with that plan, Beights put the property back up for sale. That’s when Simmons came calling.
“She’s a powerful woman and a great negotiator,” Beights said of Simmons. “We are thrilled they have the property.”
Simmons said the business is another extension of his 25-year-old South Richmond-based nonprofit, which seems to have a handle on everything.
“We are community advocates and under that umbrella we have health issues, crime issues, homelessness issues,” she said. “We were approached in several ways.
She said the group helped rehouse the homeless after the so-called ‘Tent City’ in the city of Richmond closed during the pandemic. The group also accepts and distributes in-kind donations to larger nonprofits during disasters or traumas.
The idea for a COVID memorial came to her after several of her loved ones died after being struck down by the virus, and also volunteered as a palliative care counselor for COVID patients and their families.
“It’s personal to me,” she said.
With the vision of the memorial in her mind, she then set out to find a quiet setting somewhere in the area. She found exactly that on the old golf course which has largely been reclaimed by nature.
“I know there are other memorials in various places, but when we were fortunate enough to learn about this property and acquire it, we knew we wanted to recognize and honor those who lost their lives to the COVID,” Simmons said.
In addition to honoring those who died, Simmons wants to offer peace and healing to their survivors. She also wants to help use rural land to encourage a reconnection to nature, gardening and healthier living.
“We are what we are exposed to and we have so many people who are not exposed to the possibility of having gardens or learning a healthier lifestyle,” she said, adding that she was also considering horse therapy and a small miniature golf course on the property.
Although Simmons admits much of her plan is still just a vision in her mind, she said there are a lot of wheels in motion.
She said renovations are beginning to transform the former Royal Virginian clubhouse into a visitor center for the memorial.
She is in preliminary talks with an unnamed land use architect to help conceptualize how the site would be laid out. She said the plan is to have room for anyone in Virginia or elsewhere who has lost a loved one to COVID to have their name engraved on any of the walls or on brick pavers in the rockeries around the property.
“We are in the development phase, but we know for sure that the memorial walls of legacy and love will be placed there,” she said.
She will also contact Goochland County officials to share her plans, although she added that whatever she has in mind can be done as of right under the property’s current zoning.
A first honorary pickaxe is scheduled for August 22.
She said the band’s initial budget was $33 million, much of which will be donated.
“We are prepared for this based on research from donors, philanthropists and grants,” she said. “We have good friends and supporters.”
The portion of the old golf course that Simmons’ group purchased is at 3016 Royal Virginia Parkway. She said the memorial could span nearly 300 acres because her group has another property nearby under contract, although she did not specify the exact location.
But this additional land will not include the remaining 107 acres of the Royal Virginian. This partial property, which is across the Royal Virginian Parkway from Simmons’ portion, is still owned by Beights, who said he plans to build rehab homes on part of this property.
Beights was represented in the sale by Mitzi Lee, a broker with Icon Realty. Lee’s Kind Collapse consultancy is also helping Simmons plan. HAA was represented in the sale by Stephanie Taylor of EXP Realty.
Simmons said she has also begun reaching out to property owners in the neighborhood, some of whom have watched cautiously over the years since Beights first purchased the golf course.
While some of those neighbors weren’t thrilled with Beights’ idea for a drug rehabilitation home, Simmons hopes for a warmer reception.
“Considering they lived with a golf course, I expect us to be accepted. That’s the vision God gave me, but I don’t see where anyone should have a problem with what we’re going to do there.