New Buena Vista city manager talks plans for growth

By Avalon Pernell

Buena Vista’s new city manager plans to focus on the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure and bringing new businesses to town.

Jason Tyree, 39, said he is excited to move to a city that has so much potential for growth. But he said he also understands the challenges he will be up against when he starts the job March 15.

“Right now, with COVID going on, there are businesses that are struggling, and as a former business owner, I can empathize on a completely different level than probably most other city managers or local leaders because I have been in their shoes,” Tyree said.

Tyree started a real estate investment business with his wife but was forced to close after the 2008 recession. He said the experience will play a role in his decisions for the city.

“It really makes you want to fight for grants, fight for opportunities, and anything you can do to make their life easier—whatever that might be,” he said.

Outgoing City Manager Jay Scudder said water and sewer should be a high priority for the city.

“Trying to improve water and sewer right now is critical,” said Scudder, who served as city manager for nearly nine years. “We’ve got a lot of old pipes in the ground and the water’s getting ahead of us.”

Under the 2018 American Water Infrastructure Act, communities that serve more than 3,300 people are required to do a water study to assess water usage, infrastructure, and how to better safeguard the availability of water. The study must be completed by Dec. 31 to comply with federal laws, or Buena Vista could face a penalty of up to $25,000 per day of non-compliance.

Tyree said he is in a position to guide Buena Vista through the water study because Boutetourt County conducted a similar review a few years ago while he was Buchanan’s town manager.

City Council Member Steve Webb said putting the golf course lawsuit behind the city will also be a priority.

Buena Vista borrowed $9 million to build the Vista Links Golf Course in 2005, but the City Council later voted to default on the loan in 2014. The insurer on the loan, ACA Financial Guaranty Corp., filed a lawsuit against the city. But the case was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. BV has lost about $140,000 a year since the course’s opening in 2003.

Webb said resolving the fallout from the lawsuit will clear the way for the city to begin asking for funds from the state and federal governments, “without a black eye.”

Mayor William “Billy” Fitzgerald agreed.

“Getting everything over and settled with the golf course would be a great plus,” he said.

Bringing in new businesses to downtown is another priority for the city.

“We do need to try and get some new manufacturers,” Fitzgerald said.

Webb said new businesses and manufacturers could bring “good paying jobs” to Buena Vista and help take the pressure off the real estate tax and increase sales tax revenue.

City Council Member Tyson Cooper said Buena Vista’s City Council paused its strategic planning process to enable Tyree to participate in determining which problems to prioritize.

“We realized we were very close to hiring a new city manager, so we said let’s wait and we’ll begin that strategic planning process with the new city manager,” he said.

Cooper said the strategic planning process should be underway in the next four or five months.

Despite these challenges, Tyree said he remains excited about the job.

“I think BV is really primed and set for a lot of great things,” he said. “You’ve got so much recreation there. You’ve got great businesses there. You’ve got great residents. I mean the residents are amazing in BV.”

Tyree said he is eager to work on transforming Buena Vista into a tourist destination.

“I really want to make it vibrant again and make it a destination for people,” he said. “Not just a drive-through on their way to Lexington or on their way to Roanoke, but a destination where people say, ‘Hey, we’re going to Buena Vista this weekend.’”

His excitement was one reason Buena Vista’s City Council members chose him.

“He’s got a lot of fire to him,” said Council Member Daniel “Danny” Stanton. “He wants to hit the ground running for Buena Vista.”