On March 27, 2023, Main Street America (MSA) announced that the River District Association (RDA) in Danville, Virginia has received the prestigious Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA), which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. Selected by a national jury of industry professionals and local leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, RDA is being recognized for creating a fertile environment for economic vitality through exceptionally strong collaborative leadership and partnerships.
“The River District Association demonstrates that a strong organizational foundation based on an ethos of collaboration and strategy leads to transformative change. Their tireless efforts to build meaningful relationships with local stakeholders to inform and realize a holistic economic development approach has created an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the downtown and its surrounding region.”– Hannah White, Main Street America Interim President and CEO
Danville’s downtown is well known for its rich manufacturing heritage, which built large brick facilities along the city’s eponymous waterway. As these industries shrank during the 1980s-2000s, the downtown suffered economically. Today, the downtown is not only rebounding, but thriving as an attractive place for residents and visitors to remember the area’s history while contributing to a vibrant future for all.
Revitalization work led by RDA began in 1999 with a mission to coordinate efforts with the city agencies. While these early efforts resulted in some progress, meaningful change was hampered by the continued decline of the mill industry. Strategically designed action plans in 2011 and 2017, which included the allocation of public dollars into the downtown and retooled RDA’s organizational structure based on the principles of the Main Street Approach, supported sustainable economic initiatives, multifunctional promotional activities, and property development.
Danville’s vision of a vibrant downtown is coming to fruition. Since 2010, the River District has leveraged $52 million in public investment to attract $310 million in private investment to facilitate the creation of more than 150 businesses and the addition of over 1,200 residential spaces.
“This is a tremendous honor for our community and very important for our local residents who have been through so much economic turmoil over the decades. This recognition will continue to drive home the understanding that Danville truly is a city once again on the rise. It is because of the resilience of the people in our community that Danville is a great place for those that choose to live, work, play, pray and invest in.”– Diana Schwartz, River District Association CEO
The River District Association credits a creative and entrepreneurial mindset, as well as intentional efforts to increase the strength, collaboration, trustworthiness, and reputation of the organization as their keys to success. Notable accomplishments include investing in the professional development of board members, establishing rock-solid relationships with stakeholders, and implementing thoughtfully constructed, yet ambitious strategic plans. Their Dream Launch series is credited as its most impactful programming. Consisting of four distinct, yet integrated programs, the program equips budding entrepreneurs and established businesses with education and financial tools. Since 2018, the program’s business bootcamp series has provided free start-up training to over 465 participants (200 of which completed all 6 Dream Launch Bootcamp Classes) and has distributed $375,000 in grants.
“Danville’s transformation is proof of the power of the Main Street Approach. Leaders in every facet of the community are united in a common vision and plan for the future. And they stick to it! They understand the importance of downtown revitalization and entrepreneur support in creating a positive quality of life for the entire region.”– Courtney Mailey, Virginia Main Street Program Manager
The organization’s “Vote Your Main Street” campaign resulted in securing a $150,000 preservation award that provided funds for the renovation of a historic property, an increased sense of community pride, and organizational sustainability for RDA as a part owner in the building. Their façade improvement program has provided nearly 40 property owners and tenants with grants, in-kind professional services, and technical assistance. From fresh coats of paint to new signs, these improvements are inspiring a positive multiplying effect on the community’s sense of pride and physical appearance.
“We are immensely proud of the city of Danville, the River District Association, and the residents for earning this coveted national award for their Main Street efforts. Danville continues to exemplify the profound impacts that downtown revitalization can have on communities and regional economies, and we applaud them for their efforts to create a vibrant community to live, work and, visit.”– Bryan Horn, Director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development
Danville is the sixth community in Virginia to receive this honor. Previous GAMSA winners from Virginia include: Harrisonburg (2014), Culpeper (2012), Lynchburg (2006), Manassas (2003) and Staunton (2002).