Update: VMS Idea Pitch! Winner – Blackstone

Guest blogger Zachary Whitlow, executive director of Downtown Blackstone Inc., provides an update on their Blackstone Town Square Revitalization Project that won the VMS Idea Pitch! Award at Downtown Intersections 2018.

We were incredibly excited and grateful to have been chosen as the winner of the first annual Main Street Idea Pitch! competition. The presentation process could not have been better organized, and, even though nerves were felt, all participants were made to feel heard and welcomed among dozens of peers and fellow Main Street colleagues. It was truly a great and fun opportunity for our small, rural Main Street community to receive help in funding a downtown revitalization project that demonstrated our value to key stakeholders and others.

The Blackstone Town Square Revitalization Project was inspired by Dar Williams, author of “What I Found in a Thousand Towns,” and her exploration of spaces and positive proximity. Through design efforts focused on place-making, our organization transformed Blackstone’s underutilized town square into a more people-centered space that stresses inclusiveness, allowing residents and visitors alike to socialize and build ongoing, permanent relationships.

Utilizing the $5,000 award, we reanimated the social utility of the green space by installing outdoor seating areas, planters and trash receptacles. Through use of our own funds and the VTC’s LOVEwork Reimbursement Program, a 17’ x 32’ destination mural and LOVEwork were created. They are meant to serve as two major lures for visitors and residents to interact with through the use of social media and other means in the heart of downtown Blackstone.

We’ve placed a real emphasis on downtown beautification over the past year and the Blackstone Town Square Revitalization Project has served as a much needed catalyst that has inspired neighboring property owners and others to begin making exterior improvements and other design-related changes to their buildings. Although our initial goals for the revitalization project have been met, there is still additions that we are planning to make in the future that will enhance the space even more. Our dreams are becoming a reality!

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Gloucester’s Village Corridor Enhancement Project

Virginia Main Street Merit Awards recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four points of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the fifth in a blog series to highlight each of the seven 2018 awards. Heads up, the 2019 Merit Awards nominations will be open early in the new year. Whether a DHCD Commercial District Affiliate or VMS Designated Community, start thinking about your program’s recent achievements.  We want to hear all about them!  

The “Best Downtown Public Improvement Project” award is given to the community that has implemented a design project in the public sphere.  A focus on quality design supports a community’s revitalization by enhancing the physical elements of downtown while capitalizing on the unique assets that set the commercial district apart.  Gloucester’s Main Street Preservation Trust Executive Director Jenny Crittenden accepted the award for their Village Corridor Enhancement Project.

The 2009 Gloucester Court House Village Plan plan recommended that the trust lead the charge to improve the two gateways leading to the Main Street commercial district.  The goal was to provide visual continuity between the gateways and to attract visitors to downtown shopping, dining, and historic sites.

The first phase of the project included the installation of 11 banner poles, the new Virginia Main Street sign, landscaping and brick pavers.  Additionally, the trust and environmental planning firm VHB Inc. worked with the county and local garden club to relocate existing public art to the sites and planted 8,000 daffodils, daylilies, roses and native ornamental grasses.

Where people may have driven by the understated gateways to Main Street in the past, they now look and turn to see what is beckoning them.  This project sends the message that the community invests in the downtown, much like its business and property owners do with their buildings.

Congratulations to Gloucester’s Main Street Preservation Trust and local partners!

How To Apply Workshops coming in January!

The Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Community Development Division will be holding how-to-apply workshops across the commonwealth in January as several grant programs will open for application submissions on January 2, 2019.

DHCD’s grant programs offer flexible resources that allows communities and local/regional organizations do more to create vibrant communities.

The workshops will discuss several programs offered by DHCD, including:

The workshops will feature discussions regarding the application process for each program, successful projects that have been implemented by these programs, changes for the coming year and how you can best position your effort as you prepare to apply for a grant.

The workshops will be held on the following dates and locations:

  • Jan. 8, 2019 – Richmond
  • Jan. 10, 2019 – Newport News
  • Jan. 15, 2019 – Staunton
  • Jan. 16, 2019 – Wytheville (will include a CDBG overview)
  • Jan. 17, 2019 – Danville

To register for one of the workshops, click on this link.

Regional Rev Up: Opportunity Analysis – Effective Design

How can your downtown function better for residents, merchants, and visitors? And how do you identify opportunities in the physical environment to make your town a destination, drawing customers and revenue to the area?

On Oct. 11, 17, and 18 in Bristol, Blackstone and Gloucester, the fall edition of the Regional Rev Up promises to load you up with the tools you need to implement a people-centered downtown design process.

Effective downtown design supports a community’s transformation by enhancing the physical and visual elements of downtown while capitalizing on the unique assets that set the commercial district apart.  As a community, you need to bring together your stakeholders to plan what physical amenities will bring energy and dollars to the area. The type of design choices you make, and the variables that you weigh for making your decision, is the process known as opportunity analysis.

This workshop will explore a range of issues that impact the physical characteristics of downtown and provide you with a road map for navigating the opportunities involved in implementing holistic design principles to ensure they complement the overall strategy for your downtown.

Join us for this half-day workshop that will be educational, inspiring and fun!  Kathy Frazier, Principal of architecture and planning firm Frazier Associates, will lead the discussion and activities.

Registration is only $15 to cover lunch from a local eatery.  Registration for each Rev Up session closes one week prior to the event, register now to reserve your spot!

Register now! >>>

Creating Safer Streets with Demonstration Projects

How do pedestrians experience your Main Street?

Main Street’s were made for walking, but some of our Virginia downtowns are still not pedestrian friendly.  The National Complete Streets Coalition’s mission to increase safe, comfortable and convenient access to community destinations and public places – whether walking, driving, bicycling or taking public transportation.  To test out creative approaches to safer street design, NCSC recently launched the Safe Streets Academy.

They worked with three cities around the country to build skills in safer street design, creative placemaking and community engagement, then helped the cities put these skills to work.  Through three demonstration projects, localities in Florida, Kentucky and Indiana transformed their streets, intersections and neighborhoods into slower, safer places for people.

In an inspired approach to planning, each locality collaborated with residents by leading peer-to-peer engagement efforts on the front end, versus coming up with solutions, then bringing them to the public.  The residents took the lead pinpointing problems at targeted intersections and guided solutions to address them.  Because of this, the localities were able to implement much more effective, relevant projects that earned stronger support from the public.

You can learn from the stories of these demonstration projects to test out low-cost ways to create safer streets.  Find out more here >>

To see these pedestrian safety initiatives in action in a Virginia community, look over Staunton’s recently approved Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan.

Also, click here to check out the new Main Street Approach Design Handbook, intended to help community leaders implement a people-centered design process.  

Webinar Series – Downtown Buildings: Tools for Revitalization

Virginia Main Street (VMS) is hosting a series of three webinars throughout June covering topics related to downtown buildings and tools for revitalization.  All webinars are FREE, however, registration for each one is required.


Virginia Rehabilitation Code
June 6, 2018, Noon-1 p.m.

Speaker: Jeff Brown, MCP, Director of State Building Codes, DHCD

The Rehabilitation Code can sometimes be daunting for downtown building owners to navigate when determining how to make property improvements.  How do you modernize an older building without breaking the bank to meet current requirements? This webinar will help you understand what code sections to reference and available tools to make discussing your planned improvement with your local official easier.


Virginia Main Street Financial Feasibility Studies
June 13, 2018, Noon-1 p.m.

Speaker: Kathleen O. Frazier, AIA, Principal, Frazier Associates

Do you have a large-scale downtown building that sits vacant or underutilized and you do not know what can be done with it? A financial feasibility study is one way to crack open new possibilities for the building and community.  This webinar will walk through the what, when, who and how of the feasibility study process.  With a completed study, your community and property owners will know what to expect and have the answers to attract potential developers, tenants or new owners.


Virginia Maintenance Code
June 27, 2018, Noon-1 p.m.

Speaker: Jeff Brown, MCP, Director of State Building Codes, DHCD

The Maintenance Code provides localities with the means to deal with, not only unsafe structures unfit for habitation, but also the means to reduce blight and maintain property values.  In this webinar, you will learn what the Maintenance Code is and is not, as well as how your locality can enforce it to insure a fair and measured approach is taken.  Topics will cover examples of blight related ordinances, roles of the local and state boards and technical support services available through DHCD.


FIND OUT MORE AND REGISTER FOR EACH WEBINAR HERE >>>

 

Virginia Main Street 2018 Merit Awards – Nominations are Open!

Downtown Intersections is just a few months away! Virginia Main Street staff have been working hard to craft an agenda, secure speakers, develop walking tours and create workshops that will educate, inspire and empower our communities.

Now, we need your help to recognize achievement, innovation and success in our Main Street communities. Nominations are now being accepted for the Virginia Main Street 2018 Merit Awards!

Download the form today, and nominate your best volunteer, your favorite new public space or your most successful retail promotion from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018. Winners will be recognized at a special awards luncheon at Downtown Intersections on Wednesday, July 18 at Harrisonburg’s new Hotel Madison. You won’t want to miss it!

Complete a nomination and get recognized for your extraordinary achievements>>>