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The Rockbridge County tourist attraction was last up for sale right before the economic recession.
The Roanoke Times | File 2007
"A lot of people probably don't even realize the Natural Bridge, one of the natural wonders of the world, is privately owned, " Jim Woltz, of Roanoke-based Woltz & Associates, said in a news release.
The Roanoke Times | File 2012
Groups of home schooled students walk under the Natural Bridge during a field trip organized by the Home Educators Association of Virginia.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Jim Woltz has a bridge in Rockbridge County he wants to sell you — Natural Bridge.
Woltz’s company, Roanoke-based Woltz & Associates , has been retained to market the privately owned Virginia landmark and tourist attraction, along with an accompanying 150-room hotel, Natural Bridge Caverns and 1,600 acres.
“This is a treasure,” Woltz said in an interview Wednesday. “We want to make sure we handle this the right way.”
Natural Bridge is the centerpiece of the property, a 500-million-year-old, 215-foot-high limestone arch surveyed by George Washington and once owned by Thomas Jefferson.
The bridge has drawn tourists since early Colonial times, and Confederate and Union soldiers crossed it many times during the Civil War on the Great Valley Road , the precursor to today’s U.S. 11. Long before that, the Monacan Indians called it “The Bridge of God.”
Angelo Puglisi , a Washington, D.C., businessman, is the primary owner of the bridge and the surrounding property. He is putting the attraction on the market six years after first trying to sell the property just months before the recession began.
In 2007, the entire property was listed for $39 million . This time, however, the property will be divided and listed by tracts. Potential buyers may purchase separate pieces of real estate and property, even the bridge itself, or they can buy every tract, from the bridge to the hotel to the wax museum. The prices of the individual lots and real estate won’t be revealed until later.
If no buyers are found, the property eventually could be auctioned by Woltz & Associates.
“The last time, it was all or nothing,” said Woltz, who was not the listing agent in 2007. “This time, we will use every tool we have to market it differently. We’re looking at all options.”
Vision of publicly owned park
Woltz makes no secret that he would love to see the National Park Service or the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation buy the bridge and make it a national or state park. He said that he will contact federal and state officials within the next few weeks.
The important thing, he said, is keeping the bridge open to the public. He said that wish is shared by Puglisi, who has owned the property for about 25 years. Puglisi is 88 and several members of his ownership group are in their 80s, Woltz said.
According to Woltz, Puglisi was born in Washington to Italian immigrants. His father came to the United States in 1901 and helped build Union Station. Puglisi became a real estate developer in the 1940s and owned several hotels.
When he bought Natural Bridge, however, it wasn’t for the hotel, Woltz said.
“He was thrilled to own something that went back to the Founding Fathers of this country that gave him so many opportunities,” Woltz said.
Puglisi could not be reached for comment. A message left for his daughter, listed as the hotel’s public relations director, was not returned Wednesday.
The sale of the bridge and its property could have a significant impact on Rockbridge County, whose very name was inspired by Natural Bridge.
Even if the bridge remains open as a tourist attraction, some of the surrounding land could possibly be developed for agricultural, commercial or residential uses.
The sprawling property currently falls under various zonings.
County Administrator Spencer Suter said that county officials are working closely with Woltz and Puglisi to develop a plan for how the land can be divided, sold and used.
“We are hoping that the bridge, at the very least, is preserved for the public,” Suter said. “This is our county’s namesake. It is integral to our tourism and our economy, so we will work with Mr. Woltz to achieve the best possible outcome.”
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