By Julia Gsell
Buena Vista residents will elect a new city council member in a special election Nov. 8. City Councilman John Dyer faces opposition in his re-election bid from Tyson Cooper, director of student affairs at Southern Virginia University.
Dyer was appointed to a one-year interim city council term last year when Council Member Larry Tolley was elected mayor. Because Tolley still had two of the four years left on his term, the council appointed Dyer for the first year and hold an election for the second. The man who wins this year’s seat will serve until January 2018.
A Buena Vista native and Parry McCluer High School sports hero, Dyer moved back to BV in 2015 after being away for almost 30 years.
Before attending SVU and graduating in 2007, Cooper grew up in Washington State. After graduation, he and his wife, whom he met at SVU, were given the opportunity to take jobs in California but both chose to stay in BV to work for the university. He’s been living in Buena Vista with his wife and family for 10 years now.
Eager to start his career in local politics, Cooper believes he’ll bring a new perspective to council.
“I’m grateful [Dyer] has come back, but I’ve chosen to make my life here. I didn’t leave Buena Vista to make my career and then come back,” Cooper said.
While Dyer lived in Richmond, he ran a large commercial construction company with his four brothers. Now, he runs a smaller residential renovation business in Buena Vista.
Dyer said he often came back to the area to visit, but it wasn’t until a special moment in 2013 that he considered moving back for good.
Parry McCluer’s Hall of Fame Committee had told him he was going to be inducted into the first class of the PMHS Athletic Hall of Fame. On his way home for the induction ceremony, Dyer saw a sign that said “Welcome Home John.”
“It was at that moment that I told my wife—this is the time we need to move back,” he said.
Dyer was a track star at Parry McCluer. After graduating from PMHS in 1976, he became an NCAA All-American his senior year at Virginia Tech. He then went on to coach middle and high school track in Hanover County for 20 years.
When he moved back, Dyer wrote a letter to the city council expressing his gratitude and interest in helping Buena Vista in any way he could. He thought his business, coaching, and parenting experience were just what the town needed.
Dyer said the time he spent away gave him a new perspective on the city and inspired him to seek the council position.
If elected, Dyer hopes to improve economic development, the school system, and safety. These three things, Dyer said, will improve life for BV’s citizens and bring more people and businesses into town.
Cooper will also focus on economic development if elected. He plans to create more “mini-manufacturing” jobs in the city, he said. BV has always been an industrial town. But, there are few jobs. Residents and young people have the opportunity to work for one of two big factories in town, or they have to go out of the city to get a job, he said. If the city can attract 10 or 15 small factories, BV could fix this problem, he said. Cooper also believes online businesses could do great things for the city.
Both candidates are also passionate about tourism. Plans have been in the works to connect the segments of the Chessie Trail for over a year now. Dyer said this idea could also help with another issue he said needs work—improving BV’s relationship with the county and Lexington.
By capitalizing on BV’s trails and Glen Maury Park, Cooper believes the city can not only increase tourism, but also re-brand the town.
“My vision for Buena Vista is one of a ‘family fun center,’ where families can come be together and enjoy the outdoors,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he could see BV becoming a town like Gatlinburg, Tenn., bustling with families heading to the movie theater, bowling alley, maybe even a mini-golf course.
But Cooper’s main goal, if elected, is to make Buena Vista a city its people want to return to.
“I want my children and their peers to have the choice to build a life here in Buena Vista without having to sacrifice their financial credibility,” he said.
Cooper hopes BV can become a city where young people—like his five boys— want to stay and make a life. To do this, he said, the city must attract more small manufacturing businesses. Cooper also believes online businesses could do great things for the city.
Both candidates said their ideal picture of Buena Vista is one where shops are filled, students and locals talk on the streets, and parking spots are a little harder to find.