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 >>>

Improve the Effectiveness of Your Nonprofit Board

Like grilled cheese and tomato soup, Main Street pairs well with BoardSource.  BoardSource.org exists to help nonprofit boards become a strategic asset for their organization and effective nonprofit boards ensure the Main Street revitalization effort is under way and succeeding.  Have I piqued your interest to learn more about a newly discovered resource or more so inspired a craving for a fall favorite?

For a primer on effective board leadership, and an indispensable addition to a board member orientation binder, check out the BoardSource Recommended Governance Practices.  This condensed gem reflects decades of experience working with tens of thousands of nonprofit board leaders and conducting extensive research on board practices.  It highlights essential, leading, and compliance practices, such as term limits, strategic planning, board evaluation, and personal giving.

A strong organizational foundation is key for an impactful Main Street program.  What governance upgrades could add up to meaningful change in your community? 

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Western Front Hotel

At the 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued the tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards.  They 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 fourth in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards.

The “Best Adaptive Reuse” award is granted to an individual or business that has completed an outstanding historic rehabilitation project. The project should involve a building that has outlived its former purpose and has been adapted for a new use that serves the current market. St. Paul Main Street Executive Director Kathy Stewart and Cornerstone Hospitality CEO Kimberly Christner accepted the 2018 Best Adaptive Reuse Project award for the Western Front Hotel in downtown St. Paul.

Formally used for apartments and retail spaces, the Western Front is now a 30-room boutique hotel, featuring a gift shop, two outdoor dining terraces, The Roost entertainment room with billiards and games and The Backyard, which features fire pits and hammocks, as well as Milton’s Restaurant, owned by celebrated chef Travis Milton.  All of these venues are housed within the historic 1914 Willis building, which was rehabbed using federal and state Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits and a DHCD Industrial Revitalization Fund grant.

The Western Front welcomed its first guests and diners in February 2018.  The new hotel, with its rustic retro accommodations, represents a great big welcome to visitors and is a key component in the redevelopment of a small town with a big vision: to make St. Paul the destination for outdoor recreation and a quality place to live.

The town, with 1,000 residents, straddles the line between Wise and Russell counties and sits on the Clinch River, the most biodiverse river in North America and abound with opportunities for fishing, kayaking, and hiking.  The $7.8-million project was a collaboration between the town, county and Creative Boutique Hotels, which includes partners MB Contractors, Cornerstone Hospitality and architect Hal Craddock.

Congratulations to everyone in St. Paul and the Western Front Hotel project partners!

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Sandwich Sampler Competition

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued the tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards.  They recognize the hard work, dedication and success of Virginia’s Main Street communities and their achievements across the four point of the Main Street Approach®.  This is the third in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards.

Promoting Main Street takes many forms, but the ultimate goal is to position the downtown as the hub of the community and economic activity, while creating a positive image that showcases a community’s unique characteristics.  This next award honors the best downtown restaurant promotion designed to generate foot-traffic to local eateries within the district.  Downtown Blackstone Inc. Executive Director Zachary Whitlow accepted the 2018 Best Downtown Restaurant Event award for the first annual Sandwich Sampler Competition.

This past spring, the first Sandwich Sampler Competition was held in downtown Blackstone’s Town Square.  The community was invited to sample signature sandwiches from participating local restaurants and take part in the voting for the best sandwich, crowning Blackstone’s Sandwich King or Queen.  The event was designed to showcase the quality of local cuisine and entice visitors to dine at the downtown eateries.  Downtown retail also gained exposure and amassed return customers through a cross-promotional campaign of special-offer coupons.

For the inaugural year, only 100 tickets were available for purchase, and it was a sell-out crowd! With a fine selection of local sandwich options, the competition was fierce, but the winner was quite clear. The Corner Kitchen won with a distinctive house-made strawberry ice cream sandwich.  While the inaugural event generated a small amount of revenue, it has the ability to become a profitable signature event. Given the vast amount of positive reviews, the competition will become a bigger and better annual event.

Congratulations Downtown Blackstone!

Visit downtown Blackstone for the upcoming Regional Rev Up: Opportunity Analysis – Effective Design, Oct. 17, 2018.

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: The Friendly City Fortune

At the recent 2018 Downtown Intersections in Harrisonburg, we continued our tradition of acknowledging outstanding achievements in comprehensive downtown revitalization efforts through Merit Awards. They 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 second in a blog series to highlight each of the seven awards. 

A strong organizational foundation is key for a sustainable revitalization effort.  The focus is on ensuring that all organizational resources – partners, funding and volunteers – are mobilized effectively.  Accordingly, the Outstanding Fundraising Effort award goes to the Main Street organization that has displayed the most creativity and success in securing funds for its downtown projects.  From an effort well-played, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) Director of Resources Lauren Huber and Executive Director Andrea Dono accepted the award for the Friendly City Fortune mega-raffle.

In 2017, HDR launched the new fundraiser where they sold $100 tickets and awarded $250,000 in prizes, which included cash, vacation packages, outdoor recreation vehicles, and several cars and SUVs.  Prizes were given away during Valley Fourth, Harrisonburg’s Fourth of July celebration hosted by HDR.  The Friendly City Fortune was their riskiest and most successful fundraiser to date. The goals were to earn unrestricted income, to find a new way to raise money from outside of the typical donor base and start being able to fund new and bigger Main Street projects.

Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance achieved all of these goals and raised nearly $200,000 on top of their other traditional revenue streams.  The success of the inaugural raffle allowed HDR to fund more grants, beautify downtown, support more businesses and build a more sustainable organization.  Through the process, HDR sharpened their marketing skills and learned new ways to reach new audiences. As a result, brand awareness for Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance and the Friendly City Fortune has hit an all-time high.

Congratulations Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (and all the prize winners)!

To learn more>>>

Webinar – Heart and Soul Field Guide: Fostering a Participatory Community

Do your residents and stakeholders feel engaged in their community?  Do they feel heard and included? And how does their engagement translate into stronger organizations and programming?

On Oct. 1, from noon-1 p.m., Virginia Main Street is offering a free webinar focused on a researched and field tested civic engagement method to build, stronger, healthier, and more economically vibrant small cities and towns – Community Heart & Soul.

The best way to build leaders and strengthen economies is to listen to and work closely with the people who live in the community.  The Orton Family Foundation has developed a step-by-step process that proactively includes your community in making decisions and taking action to improve the place where you all live, work, learn and play. This process focuses on getting everyone involved in finding ways to protect, restore, or enhance their community identity – its heart and soul – over the long term.

Speakers:

Caitlyn Davison, Senior Associate of Programs and Marketing, Orton Family Foundation

Leanne Tingay, Senior Associate of Programs, Orton Family Foundation

Autumn Vogel, Community Development Coordinator, My Meadville (Heart & Soul Program)

Register now for this event >>

Can’t join the live event? Register to receive the webinar recording.

“Through Heart & Soul we are finding common ground. Instead of being concerned about our differences, we are moving toward the things we meet on… The growth is going to be beautiful!”

~Annie Cooper, Community Volunteer, Essex, VT

 

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! >>>