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 >>>

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!

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 >>>

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.

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

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>>>