A Jewel Worth Saving: Re-imagining Danville’s North Union Street

Guest Blogger Diana Schwartz, executive director of Danville’s River District Association, is a native of Dickenson County, Virginia, and was previously director of business retention for the Ocala/Marion Chamber and Economic Partnership in Florida, as well as director of the Ocala Main Street Program.

Danville, Virginia may be best known for the railroad system, including the wreck of the “Old 97,“and a rich textile and tobacco history.  But there is a block in downtown Danville, North Union Street, that also has a story of its own.

Recognized as a historical African-American business “mecca” during the era of legal segregation, North Union Street has been home to bustling businesses such as doctors offices, restaurants, a bank currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, barbers and salons, art galleries, and much more since the 1880s. After the closing of Dan River Mills in 2006, the street (like much of downtown) began a rapid economic decline.

Fast Forward to 2018, and over $125 million has been invested in the re-imagining of the River District.  Locally, there is an ever-watchful eye on preservation of the history, the buildings and the stories of the people.  This ethos of preserving both property and personal history led to the recognition that North Union Street was a jewel worth not only saving, but sharing.  In the fall of 2018, the River District Association was invited to participate in the 2018 Partners in Preservation campaign to showcase this history on a national level while competing for a grant to help further the preservation of the properties.

Over the course of 30 days in Sept./Oct. 2018, Danville was charged to garner the most online votes against 20 historic properties throughout the United States in order to win grant funding.  The committee knew the key was not just talking about the buildings, but the history of the people that inhabited them.

Ultimately, Danville pulled out a win. and $150,000 will now be used towards preservation and restoration of two North Union properties. The city of Danville recently completed a streetscape project on North Union, and RDA is currently in the process of a Community Business Launch program with the goal of opening five new business in the summer/fall of 2019 with a focus on North Union Street.  It is by sharing our past that we can build for the future, and we look forward to watching new stories being added to the History of North Union in the coming years.

Learn more about the re-imagining of the Danville River District >>>

Small Business Resource Guide now available

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has developed a Small Business Resource Guide that provides information on many of the items that new or expanding small businesses and entrepreneurs need. This includes financing programs, grant programs, business development resources and training opportunities, as well as university entrepreneurship programs that are available to the public.

The guide is a living document, so it will be updated often as new programs and resources become available or we are made aware of appropriate available resources. The guide can be found on the Resources and Reports page of the Virginia Main Street blog, or click here for a copy.

If you know of a great resource – federal, state, regional or local – that should be added, please let us know!

Fostering Successful Businesses in Your Community

How can Main Street organizations create a supportive, business-friendly community? 

What are the elements of a community that make it viable to attract business and expansion for the existing ones? 

And what are the trends that best produce the desired entrepreneurial advancement? 

These are some of the questions driving Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Appalachia, a recently published suite of research reports and resources supporting entrepreneurial ecosystem development in Appalachia. However, the findings are beneficial to more than the southwest corner of Virginia. They are broadly applicable to encourage entrepreneurship and increase the probability of a successful business in your community, too.

The report makes clear that the development and maintenance of robust regional entrepreneurial ecosystems involves a complex mix of culture, history, markets, policy and environmental factors.  Referenced in the report, the Kauffman Foundation has developed “Seven Design Principles for Building Entrepreneurial Ecosystems” that provide excellent guidance and actionable ideas to support the ecosystem:

  1. Put Entrepreneurs Front and Center: Effective ecosystems are led “by and for” entrepreneurs.
  2. Foster Conversations: Effective ecosystems engage multiple partners in conversations that are focused on hope and action.
  3. Enlist Collaborators. Everyone is invited: Effective ecosystems engage partners from all walks of life, multiple disciplines and multiple sectors.
  4. Live the Values: Effective ecosystems do not have a “leader.” They are built on an invisible social contract of shared values.
  5. Connect people bottom-up, top-down, outside-in: Effective ecosystems bridge social boundaries and build tribes of trust.
  6. Tell a Community’s Authentic Story: Effective ecosystems champion role models and create stories out of strength.
  7. Start, be patient: Effective ecosystems take time to build.

The report is part of a larger project entitled Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Appalachia. Additional project materials can be accessed at www.arc.gov, as well as the project’s website: http://arceco.creconline.org.

For a Main Street-focused guide, check out Main Street America’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the Role of Commercial Districts >>

Autonomous Transit Shuttle Service to Launch in Crozet

The Downtown Crozet Initiative, a DHCD Commercial District Affiliate community organization, is embracing cutting-edge technology to help make visiting downtown a convenient, zero-emission experience, shuttling customers from a parking area into the commercial core.  While it may sound more Jetsons than Main Street, this is the real deal.

Crozet’s Perrone Robotics, Inc., JAUNT, Inc. and Albemarle County just announced a partnership to develop, test and operate the autonomous transit shuttle service pilot. The pilot program will start March 2019 in Crozet with hopes to expand toward Charlottesville, allowing riders to embark and disembark along a fixed route.

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Mallek shared, “Albemarle County has long supported vibrant communities, and an autonomous, zero-emission transit service brings the promise of reduced parking needs and greater use of green technologies in our urban centers – allowing our community to continue to flourish into the future.”

This is one customer-oriented innovation to watch.  Learn more >>>

The District Digest Vol. 4 – Downtown Ideas to Put to Work

While you were busy making a difference in your hometown, you might have missed these thought-provoking reads.  Attraction, expansion and retention of businesses for your Main Street district is vital. It is also one of the most difficult things for a community to successfully accomplish. It takes hard work, planning and follow-through. Here is a dose of inspiration and education:

  1. Retention and Attraction Strategies for a Balanced Retail Sector – National League of Cities
  2. Chicago Proposes Experiment with Pop-up Urbanism – The Architects Newspaper
  3. Creative Uses for Buildings in Small Towns – University of Wisconsin Extension
  4. What’s in a Name? The Different Types of Shared Work Spaces – Virginia Main Street
  5. Incubators: Hatching Ideas into Business – Virginia Main Street
  6. Accelerators: Taking Businesses to the Next Level – Virginia Main Street

New Report Shows Historic Tax Credits Boost Virginia’s Economy

During an annual legislative reception hosted last week, First Lady Pam Northam highlighted the findings of two just-completed studies showing the sustained and substantial contribution that historic preservation makes to Virginia’s economy, specifically through the state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits (HRTCs)

One study, conducted by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, found that much of the $4.5 billion in private investment would have gone untapped without the incentive of the state’s tax credit being available to property owners, developers, and entrepreneurs. Preservation Virginia’s study examines the impact of the federal Historic Tax Credits (HTC) on Virginia’s economy, finding that the program resulted in $467 million in economic output, supported 9,960 jobs and generated $3.50 for every $1 invested through the first three years.

“These studies clearly demonstrate the sustained and substantial contribution that preservation makes to Virginia’s economy,” said First Lady Pamela Northam. “The Governor and I applaud the Department of Historic Resources and Preservation Virginia for caring for our rich past and preparing us for an amazing future.”

Conducted on behalf of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the VCU study analyzed the overall impact of the state’s HRTC program from its inception in 1997 through 2017, its twentieth anniversary. During those two decades, according to VCU’s Wilder School, the HRTC program issued $1.2 billion in tax credits and leveraged $4.5 billion in private investment.

Virginia Main Street and Department of Housing and Community Development have always known that our historic resources are great investments!

Find an executive summary from the Wilder School study here.

Believe in Bristol

Tax Reform and Downtown Rehabilitation

From South Boston to Winchester, St. Paul to Norfolk, many of our Virginia communities have seen significant revitalization as a result of the Federal Historic Tax Credits (HTC). In many cases, if not most cases, rehabilitation of historic structures counts on this funding to make those projects work – and the credits are slated for elimination in the Tax Reform proposal under consideration.

Masonic Theatre, Clifton Forge, VA

The rehabilitation, re-use, and preservation of Virginia’s historic buildings is good for the commonwealth’s economy, according to a recent study conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University.  During a 17-year period, nearly $1 billion in tax credits leveraged almost $3 billion in private investment, resulting in the reuse of 2,375 buildings, ranging from warehouses, hotels, and theaters.

Where do you go for more, so you can put this economic development tool to good use?  Let me introduce you to your partners:

Here are your administrative partners.  While the National Park Service ultimately approves the federal Historic Tax Credit, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) acts as the “gatekeeper”, administering both the federal and state tax credit programs. All applications go through DHR first and they also provide technical assistance.

Here are your advocacy partners. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its subsidiary the National Main Street Center, a proven leader of preservation-based economic development, both work to educate national and local community leaders about its value. Your local preservation advocacy partner, Preservation Virginia, promotes this development tool, too.

Rehabilitated Masonic Theatre, Clifton Forge, VA