Devastating Fire in Downtown Tappahannock: What’s Next?

Flames consume several historic buildings and businesses on Prince Street.

On Friday, July 15, 2022 the town of Tappahannock suffered a catastrophic fire in the Main Street district. Virginia Main Street responded by coordinating a resource team to visit Tappahannock to identify and connect local leaders with financial resources and services available immediately, as well as those available in the near and long-term to help aid recovery. Tappahannock Main Street’s Executive Director, Beth Sharpe, describes how “the 200 Block of Prince Street in our beloved historic district of downtown Tappahannock was engulfed in flames. Businesses and buildings are reduced to ash. Fire crews from all local jurisdictions and across the state responded to the blaze.” The fire destroyed most of Tappahannock’s key downtown block with a high concentration of both historic architecture and independent businesses. The first week and a half were emotionally very hard for the town but the community has started to surface from grief and is ready to get work. Enter the resource team.

The resource team included representatives from a wide array of state and federal agencies including:

  • Bill Curtis, Assistant Director of VDHCD
  • Perry Hickman, Virginia USDA State Director
  • Joe Boatwright, Program Manager of Virginia USDA Rural Development Business
  • Courtney Mailey, Virginia Main Street Manager, VDHCD
  • Kathy Frazier, Virginia Main Street Architect and Principal of Frazier Associates
  • Kyle Meyer, Virginia Main Street Program Administrator, VDHCD
  • Tory McGowan, Real Estate Program Manager, VDHCD
  • Annie Arnest, Real Estate Program Administrator, VDHCD, and
  • Luke Tate, Strategic Housing Officer, Virginia Housing

After walking the perimeter of the burn site, the resource team met at Town Hall to outline different resources that could help Tappahannock get on its feet based on the nature of their fire. These included:

Virginia Economic Development Partnership and Department of Environmental Quality partner on the Virginia Brownfields Restoration and Economic Development Assistance Fund, a noncompetitive grant program that provides up to $50,000 with a 1:1 match (including in-kind goods or services). A government entity must be the applicant. These funds could be used for clearing the site and/or for planning the redevelopment of the site. Applications are reviewed every two weeks. It is possible to receive funds more than once depending on the stages of redevelopment being addressed.

Virginia Housing offers favorable financing options for redevelopment. The Mixed-Use Mixed-Income program is of particular interest for historic commercial district developments that include upper-story housing units and a total housing square footage of 51% housing or more. Virginia Housing also offers planning grants to support redevelopment planning services. For more information about their planning grant options contact  

– USDA’s Rural Development Virginia office offers immediate assistance to help relocate and re-house people who have lost their homes until they can settle into a permanent housing solution. USDA Rural Development also offers planning, commercial property, and mixed-use redevelopment financing options, with a stipulation that the final development must be 50% commercial. Because Rural Development has so many programs, it may be best to reach out directly to a state representative, who can help communities to sift through the options. Also of note, while it may seem at first blush like USDA’s and Virginia Housing’s program requirements conflict with one another, getting program managers in both agencies together early during the planning phase can help to structure a deal that might work for both agencies.

–  As a designated Advancing Virginia Main Street community, Tappahannock has access to the Virginia Main Street architect, Frazier Associates. Kathy Frazier joined the visit and started work on façade renderings for at least three buildings at the periphery of the fire site that was damaged by the extreme heat. Frazier will also be available to provide consulting and/or design charrette assistance as part of Tappahannock’s upcoming master planning this fall. Frazier will be available through the rest of the year to provide a façade, interior layout, sign design, and potential design guideline review, as needed.

-Tappahannock Main Street is eligible for Virginia Main Street Financial Feasibility Grant funds up to $25,000 match-free to assist with the redevelopment of the site.

– Tappahannock Main Street created a GoFundMe campaign straight out of the gate. So far TMS has raised about $70,000 in unrestricted funding that can be used in a variety of ways to bring this block back as a beautiful, lively, and interesting core to the downtown district.

– In early August, the three insurance companies that represent all the property owners will meet in person at the site of the fire to work out their final assessments and insurance payouts. After this meeting, Tappahannock Main Street and the Town will move forward with a plan of action using some or all of the resources outlined above.

By coincidence, Ashland Main Street Executive Director, Maggie Beale, was in Tappahannock as the fire was raging. “Having a fellow Executive Director at my side when it all started to unfold was very grounding,” said Sharpe. “I will always remember that she was there with me.” According to Sharpe, “This fire has been a terrible tragedy for our town. Yet, when we get started with the cleanup and look toward the future, the next two years promise us many things to look forward to.”

Stay tuned. Virginia Main Street will be with Tappahannock every step of the way and will provide regular updates on the progress.

A previous look at Price Street from 2020.