Developer, Historian Hopes to Rediscover Sense of Community
"I want to let people know about the wonderful things that are going on here. "
By LAURA J. MONDUL | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | June 02, 2009*** Published: June 1, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
Take one abandoned Bristol industrial plant and add an energetic, community-minded businessman with a passion for history. The result is a grand plan for a revitalized neighborhood designed to promote family values and a safe environment for children.
Michael Stramiello has that vision, and he's on the trail to make it a reality – on the former site of an old frozen foods company.
For years, the Tenneva plant on Fairview Avenue in Bristol, Va., has stood empty and abandoned. Enter Stramiello, a New York Italian who fell in love with the Tri-Cities and now calls Bristol home. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Stramiello fondly recalls the neighborhoods of his youth.
"There would be 10 kids playing out on the block, with several mothers and grandmothers sitting on the porch watching," Stramiello said. "It was like having 100 babysitters. If a stranger came in, you had parents asking who they are, and the kids are protected.
"Today, everyone is so separated and individual, we've lost the neighborhood concept and there is no control," he said. "Nobody is watching the kids."
Stramiello sees that lack of togetherness and family orientation as a core problem behind the prevalence of drug abuse, kidnappings, violence and crime in today's communities. His answer is to create neighborhoods with a sense of community, where "everybody knows everybody," coupled with activities and common interests.
Years ago, Stramiello moved to Saltville, Va., while he was chief executive officer and founder of a recycling and environmental company. He fell in love with the area, for its rich history, its abundant natural resources, and the people who live here.
"It's so beautiful here," Stramiello said. "When I came here, I saw families for the first time in a long time as I remembered them as a child. I just love that you can go down State Street and there are people out on the street playing music. We need more of that."
As his vision began to take shape, Stramiello bought the old plant and began brainstorming. He then presented his ideas to Bristol Virginia city leaders, and in February 2008, the City Council voted unanimously to rezone almost 12 acres at the site from M-2 manufacturing to R-3 residential.
One aspect of Stramiello's plan is to restore and maintain the original brick building, complete with smokestack, to preserve the history and architecture he said he deeply appreciates. He's already carved out and refinished a part of the building for his offices.
The building will serve as corporate offices for the complex, to be called Fairview Village, as well as his other business ventures, including STRAMCO, a medical supply business, and Appalachian Mountain Streaming, a documentary film production company.
Stramiello's plans also call for built-to-suit lofts and condos in the building. The rest of the property will feature single family homes, all built into a central neighborhood that will include a swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, garden areas, a dog-walking park, fitness facilities and more.
"By offering all of these amenities, I hope to keep the adults and kids busy and occupied so they stay home with their families," Stramiello said. "They don't have to spend a lot of money or travel to have amenities, they can stay home where they know their neighbors and they know you. People can socialize and work together. That helps keep out the bad things that develop when people get bored and isolated. And it's geared toward the average Joe – you don't have to be wealthy to live here."
Eric Jenkins, a Bristol native who is now senior vice president of sales for STRAMCO and a producer for Appalachian Mountain, shares Stramiello's vision.
"He's such an honest person who works hard to try to improve the place he lives, and he wants to give back to the community," Jenkins said. "His projects are going to be wonderful for the community and it will enrich the area we live in."
But Stramiello's vision extends beyond Fairview Village. He is combining his resources and is working on the production of three documentary films that will feature the Birthplace of Country Music, Saltville and the Battle of Kings Mountain, all through his company Appalachian Mountain Streaming. Though the primary focus of the films will be historical, Stramiello will include current images.
"This area is an unknown jewel," Stramiello said. "I want to let people know about the wonderful things that are going on here. This place is America. People care about each other and they are courteous – that is the way it should be. There are so many good things here, and such a rich and wonderful history that no one knows anything about. So we're educating them while showing everyone that it is a great place to live."
Already, Stramiello is working with the Documentary Channel, a nationwide satellite-cable company that reaches 25 million homes, to air the documentaries, which he hopes will be in production by Summer 2009.
"I truly believe in these projects Mike is developing," said LeRoy Shaver, a native and lifelong resident of Bristol who is the executive vice president of sales for STRAMCO and a producer for Appalachian Mountain. "Mike has taken it upon himself to revitalize this forgotten side of town, and it will be so wonderful. It will bring people together and bring back a sense of community."
Stramiello said his inspiration stems from his own personal history and his desire to contribute to the community.
"People are the greatest resource you can have, and I try to help them," he said. "It kills me to see people's families splitting up and moving away just because they can't get jobs in their hometown. Then you don't get to see your children and grandchildren grow up. That's why I'm doing this – I want these good families
to be able to stay here."
Outside of business, Stramiello said, he is the "most boring guy in the world," because his whole life is his business. But he said he believes in helping people. Shaver said he "is one of those people that would do anything for you."
"He's kind of like a big brother to me – like family," Shaver said. "I would do anything for him."