Loan funds from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission for the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center in Tazewell County were announced Wednesday. Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel, made the ceremonial award presentation on behalf of VCEDA and Del. Will Morefield, a member of the Tobacco Commission, made the award presentation on behalf of the Tobacco Commission. On hand for the announcement were, from left, Cody Mumpower, Ninth District Rep. Morgan Griffith’s legislative aide; Sara Williams, Tobacco Commission; Kyle Hurt; Jamie Cartwright; Jay Shott; Belcher; Larry Davidson; Danny Addison; Morefield; Pam Warden, Tazewell County economic development manager; and Todd Day, Tazewell town manager.

TAZEWELL, VA – OCTOBER 30, 2019 — The award of a $150,000 loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Tourism Capital Improvement Matching Fund was announced Wednesday for the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center in Tazewell. An additional $650,000 Southwest Economic Development loan was also awarded to the project by the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. The Tobacco Commission loan is administered through the Virginia Resources Authority.

The VCEDA funding will be used to finance site development, building(s) construction, parking lot improvements, other improvements and costs associated with the $1.68 million Back of the Dragon Welcome Center located at 592 Main Street in Tazewell, Va. In addition to the loan funds from VCEDA and the Tobacco Commission, the project also has a significant private investment.

“VCEDA is pleased to assist in the development of the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center project,” said VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher. “Already, the ‘Back of the Dragon’ has developed a successful marketing campaign aimed at motorcycle and sports car enthusiasts to promote the winding 32-mile stretch of Highway 16 from Tazewell to Marion. The welcome center will add to the experience and in the process is also projected to create four full-time and two part-time jobs within a year.”

Tobacco Commission member Delegate Will Morefield, a resident of Tazewell, said the project is exciting not only for the Town of Tazewell, but also for the surrounding region.

“As a resident of Tazewell, I have personally experienced the growing popularity of Back of the Dragon,” Morefield said. “As the old saying goes, ‘the proof is in the pudding.’ It is not unusual to see hundreds of motorcycles and sports cars visit over the course of a weekend. The project investors are young, successful and willing to invest in their childhood community. I am honored to play a role in supporting this project and will continue to support projects that will bring even more visitors to our area. This will help serve as a catalyst in further diversifying our economy.”

Senator Ben Chafin, who is also a member of the Tobacco Commission noted, “I am pleased that tourism in Southwest Virginia has led to the creation of another business in the 38th district. The Back of the Dragon will continue to lead to great economic prosperity in Tazewell and Smyth County. Larry Davidson (an investor in and the originator of the Back of the Dragon concept) has done a phenomenal job creating and marketing a true Southwest Virginia gem and I know having the Back of The Dragon Welcome Center will certainly draw in more adventure seekers to Southwest Virginia.”

Jay Shott, Back of the Dragon investor, noted the partnerships developed in building the Back of the Dragon Welcome Center have been a key to its success.

“We at the Back of the Dragon are thankful for the partnerships we have with VCEDA and the Tobacco Commission,” said Jay Shott, of Back of the Dragon. “We look forward to helping in strengthening the regional economy together. We also appreciate the support we have received from Tazewell County and the Town of Tazewell. We believe there is a bright future for motor tourism in our region.”

The Back of the Dragon is a designated tourism route marketed by the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority, Virginia Tourism and others. The route has seen hundreds of thousands of visitors in the last several years. Described by Virginia Tourism as “the premier road in North America,” Back of the Dragon “offers 32 miles and 438 curves of knee dragging fun. The Back of the Dragon, which is named after the mystical medieval dragon, is the premier riding road in the nation! Ideal for sports cars or motorcycles, this road offers the most spectacular views you can find on the east coast! Crossing three mountains in its course from Tazewell to Marion, the Back of the Dragon offers curves, switchbacks, slaloms, hairpins, limited access and elevation changes that no other motorcycle route can offer.”

According to the business plan, the construction and operation of a Welcome Center in Tazewell has been identified as a key component in the broader initiative of promoting the Back of the Dragon. The Welcome Center, the primary structure of which is 5,292 square feet, sits on approximately 1.2 acres of land and has two primary functions: to drive more tourists to the area and to be a destination for those tourists.

The Welcome Center features a modern, industrial feel and has been designed to invite tourists to relax and gather before or after their ride. The Center will include retail space, tourist information, food and drink offerings, an inviting lounge area, displays and an iconic 12-foot dragon, already in place, which will provide a photo opportunity for those who have conquered the ride.

Plans call for the welcome center to regularly feature live music from local groups as well as invited artists. During active touring, operating hours will be 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week with additional hours for special events. Tourist information will be available to connect visitors to the area including lodging options, restaurant recommendations and other attractions in the area. The center will also offer “planned package” rides to destinations throughout the region, and retail merchandise both on-site as well as on-line. Food and drink offerings will include a coffee bar, yogurt bar, beer bar and, during active touring season and special events, local food trucks.

“We are very excited to see tourism expand in our county to include this welcome center and its private investment,” said County Administrator Eric Young. “For a long time, we have watched bikes, antique cars and other travel groups drive through our county.  Now they can stop, enjoy fellowship, survey the sights and, of course, spend some money in what I truly believe is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Tazewell County is happy to support the center and be a part of its expansion.”

About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vaceda.org  or www.e-Region.org.

About the Tobacco Commission: The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission is a 28-member body created by the 1999 General Assembly. Its mission is the promotion of economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent communities, using proceeds of the national tobacco settlement.  To date, the Commission has awarded 2,215 grants totaling more than $1.1 billion across the tobacco region of the Commonwealth and has provided $309 million in indemnification payments to tobacco growers and quota holders.