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 >>>

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

Vote for America’s Happiest Seaside Town

Downtown Cape Charles, Virginia

COASTAL LIVING magazine recently announced its seventh annual top 10 list of America’s Happiest Seaside Towns.  The unranked list includes top beach destinations across the United States, from Michigan to Florida and from Oregon to…Virginia’s Cape Charles!

Here’s your call to action!  You have until February 6 at 5 p.m. EST to vote for your favorite town to determine which will be named the No. 1 Happiest Seaside Town in America (hint: Cape Charles).  COASTAL LIVING will reveal the No. 1 Happiest Seaside Town on their website and social media June 12 and will feature the towns and their rankings in the July/August 2018 issue.

“All of these towns embody two things we love about the coast: access to beautiful beaches and vibrant communities”, said Sid Evans, Editor-in-Chief.

To choose the 2018 finalists, COASTAL LIVING editors called for nominations via social media.  They then collected each town’s rank on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, percentage of sunny days, air quality, healthiness of beaches, commute times, crime ratings, walkability, standard of living and financial well-being of locals, geographic diversity, and the editors’ assessment of each town’s “coastal vibe”.  The ranking is determined by online voting between January 23 and February 6.

Follow the conversation and spread the word on social media with #CLHappyTown and vote online here>>>

Cape Charles “Love” Sign

Vacation Inspiration: I’m Never Not Working

I was recently going through the 8,952,423,065 pictures on my phone – saving some, posting some, even printing some, and deleting a lot. This exercise in photo curation is a great walk down memory lane from my past year. It is a reminder of all of the places I have been and interesting things that I have seen. And many were taken, I know, with the expressed purpose of sharing them with you.

Even when I am on vacation I am working. “Look at those awesome chairs! Did you see the sidewalks? Sculpture? Benches? Crosswalk? Bike rack?” Those who travel with me are used to this refrain.

Here are a few of the images of unique and fun ideas from public spaces that I saw this past year – I hope that some of them provide inspiration for your downtown!

 

Green Space

This vertical garden along the Greenway in Boston.

 

Or this Ivy Wall in Pittsburgh (FYI, those silvery trees are sculptures – amazing!).

 

Sidewalks

Also in Pittsburgh…a map etched into the sidewalk.

 

Meanwhile, in Woodstock, NY the sidewalks are made of stepping stones that look like leaves.

 

Community Culture and History on Display

Woodstock, NY also plays up its musical history with decorated guitars all through the downtown.

 

And in Belfast, Maine the fishing culture of the coastal town is incorporated into the public seating with these chairs made out of lobster traps.

 

What caught your eye on vacation this year? Did you find inspiration on your travels? or in your backyard? Share your snaps with us for a future blog!

An Evening on the Bridge: Luray’s Hometown Fundraiser

Our guest blogger is Luray Downtown Initiative (LDI) Executive Director Meredith Dees.  She is a Luray native and recently returned after a career experience in Denver, CO overseeing regional retail operations for a yoga brand. 

Any Main Street manager will tell you that as soon as they hear the words “road construction” or “street closures” they become uneasy. We have a large project that has loomed over downtown Luray for some time. The days are finally numbered when we will replace our distressed 70 year-old bridge (c. 1934) connecting East and West Main Street. The local economy is heavily impacted by tourism, so our small downtown needs to capitalize on every single car full of visitors and leave them with an uplifting, memorable experience.

How do we bring positive energy to the reality that we are closing down the streets for several months and host a successful, charitable fundraiser and bridge-honoring celebration all in one night?  The Evening on the Bridge idea was born.

This event was a cross between a farm-to-table soiree and a family-style community gathering. Two hundred tickets were sold out at $75 each; no small feat in a town this size (population 5,000). We hoped for 10 sponsors and ended up with 17, several had never sponsored us before and many from community members that just wanted to show support!

We seated 200 locals down the center of the 123 foot-long bridge. Luray-based caterers and bakeries provided dinner and desserts and all of the drinks were also local, including wine and beer, as well as a signature “1934” cocktail crafted by our own distillery. Big band music played in the background and lights were strung overhead to create the perfect setting.

We highlighted the new design and paid homage to the historic bridge with speakers and pictures. There was a live auction, including a donated original art piece of the bridge by a local artist that took top dollar. Overall, we raised more than $15,000 (net revenue!) for Main Street and proceeds will fund newly branded light pole banners.

The only question I have received since the event, “when can we do it again?” And I cannot wait!

See a video of the event here >>>

An Evening on the Bridge, Luray Downtown Initiative, November 5, 2017

 

 

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

The District Digest Vol. 2 – Downtown Ideas to Put to Work

While you were busy making a difference in your home town, you might have missed these thought-provoking posts:

  1. Holiday Customer Service: 7 Tips Retailers Should Not Ignore – Retail Minded
  2. Craft Beer’s Big Impact on Small Towns and Forgotten Neighborhoods – Curbed
  3. 6 Urban Projects Built Thanks to Online Civic Engagement – CitizenLab
  4. How to Encourage Entrepreneurship in Your Town – Strong Towns
  5. Millennials Prefer Revitalized Historic Areas Not Malls – Modern Cities

Abingdon, Virginia