- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

NATURAL BRIDGE, Va. (AP) - Natural Bridge owner Tom Clark says he has a plan to correct the park’s financial problems, including seeking outside help to run the hotel and revising his state financing.

Clarke told The Roanoke Times that (https://bit.ly/1jod5B3) that his enterprise will pay or negotiate a timeline to pay arrears on public and private loans and $140,000 in county taxes.

The Virginia Resources Authority, a state entity, lent $9.1 million for the purchase of the facility. Clarke is seeking leeway to cut in half a required annual loan payment of $910,000.

He also plans to spend about $35,000 to fix the park’s sewage plant, which was faulted by environmental regulators for impermissible levels of chlorine in discharges to Cedar Creek. Construction of a planned multimillion-dollar biomass-fueled electrical generating plant will be postponed.

Clarke said he wants to assure the public that he is committed to the park’s success and longevity. He said Natural Bridge will be open in 2016.

“I hate having problems out there without having a potential solution out there to solve it,” he said.

The Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, a nonprofit controlled by Clarke, bought the bridge, hotel, gift shop, caverns and land in February 2014. Clarke agreed to donate the bridge and surrounding land to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“This definitely complicates the transaction, but we’re optimistic that VCLF is going to be successful in whatever strategies that they develop to get out of the hole and we’re optimistic that we will continue to move forward, to plan for the transition of Natural Bridge to become a state park,” Clyde Cristman, director of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, told the newspaper.

The hotel and caverns will remain with the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund and the American Conservation and Education Centers Inc., another nonprofit led by Clarke.

Lionberger Construction Co. in Roanoke County has demanded $1.07 million for work on the hotel’s second and third floors. The company declined to comment, saying it involved legal issues.

Clarke said he wants to give Lionberger a first mortgage on the hotel if the current first mortgage holder agrees.

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Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com


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