Walking in a Main Street Wonderland: Celebrating the Holidays in Virginia

If you are looking for the holiday spirit, look no further than Virginia’s Main Streets.  Whether a holiday shopping promotion, a tree lighting, or a downtown evening carriage ride, there is a special experience just for you and your family.  Our partners at #VirginiaTourism make sure you can plan this season’s special moments with the greatest of ease through event listings and search engines. Here are a few highlights of what Virginia’s charming towns and cities have to offer throughout December:

Light Up the Tracks, Ashland – See downtown Ashland as a mile long holiday card all lit up for the season each weekend.

Christmas Parade, Blackstone – This annual family event, planned for December 14, is one part of a full calendar of weekend Santa visits, shopping specials, and the not-to-miss Bevell’s Hardware train display.

Festive Fridays, Cape Charles – Five nights of free, family-friendly festivities, including carriage rides, street performers, live local music, restaurant specials, and evening shopping.

Holiday Market, Abingdon – Support the local businesses by shopping at the Abingdon Farmers Markets’ Holiday Market with vendors selling produce, meats, baked goods, clothing accessories, jewelry, paintings, wine, confections, and canned goods.

Big Band Holidays, Lynchburg – The recently renovated historic Academy of Music Theater hosts the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, bringing out the magic of the holiday with soulful renditions of holiday classics.

When it snows, ain’t it thrilling; though your nose, gets a chilling; we’ll frolic and play, the Eskimo way; walking in a [Main Street] wonderland!

Find out more >>

Ashland’s Light Up the Tracks

Downtown Lynchburg: Where the Makers Are

The Downtown Lynchburg Association (DLA) knows how to lift up their community. Right now they’re raising awareness of the hardworking entrepreneurs who, with their own hands, are making downtown the destination for local shopping.  Our guest blogger, DLA Executive Director Ashley Kershner, gives us the goods.   

As part of our overall marketing strategy this year, Downtown Lynchburg Association wanted a campaign that would do three things: feature the fabulous businesses that make our downtown unique, position downtown as the local choice for shopping, and most importantly, attract new visitors. With a multi-year downtown construction project looming, we knew that a strong marketing effort would be needed to get our businesses through the holiday season.

The concept of “makers” is a world-wide movement – artisan crafters, handmade goods, chefs sourcing from local ingredients, and makerspaces.  We set out to develop a concept that would align Downtown Lynchburg with the movement, and that would promote it as a place to where quality, originality, and art are valued.

“Where the Makers Are,” is a series of six videos featuring diverse downtown businesses – a skate shop that makes gifts from recycled boards; a pottery shop with handmade items; a bakery that starts baking at 4am; an 85-year old jewelry shop; a specialty chocolatier; and a children’s museum that creates its own exhibits. In each of these videos, we see close-up footage of these makers creating. We hear them talk about why they do what they do, and equally important, why they choose to do it in Downtown Lynchburg.

We have only released two videos thus far, but the response has been overwhelming. The first video alone was viewed over 34,000 times, and we received almost 2,000 video reactions, every single one of them positive. With negativity reigning in social media, this campaign has proven that people are looking for a way to express pride in their community.

With four more videos to go, we look forward to the potential impact this campaign will have on Downtown Lynchburg this year and into the future.

View the “Where the Makers Are campaign here >>>

Virginia Main Street Awards Downtown Improvement Grants

VMS logoVMS recently awarded several Downtown Improvement Grants (DIG). These grants, of up to $25,000, help designated Main Street communities tackle special, one-time Main Street-related projects that need additional financial resources to become a reality. The awarded projects have specific economic restructuring outcomes and involve multiple community partners. This year, VMS received 14 competitive applications and awarded five grants, totaling $115,000. The awarded projects include the following:

  • Blackstone –A $25,000 DIG will help Downtown Blackstone Inc. install a wayfinding system for the Blackstone’s historic commercial district. Grant funds will assist in the fabrication and installation of 10 trailblazing signs at strategic locations throughout town and the replacement of six gateway signs located at each entrance into town. DIG funds will be matched by $25,000 from a USDA grant, $9,000 from the town and $9,500 of in-kind donations. VMS provided design assistance for the wayfinding system via its design services consultant, Frazier Associates.
  • Lynchburg – A $25,000 DIG will help Lynch’s Landing Foundation partner with the Lynchburg Office of Economic Development and the Region 2000 Small Business Development Center to develop and run a small business competition for businesses looking to start or expand in Lynchburg’s Central Business District. Three business competition winners will receive business start-up/expansion grants of up to $10,000 and marketing and media support.
  • Marion –A $25,000 DIG will help Marion Downtown! develop a façade enhancement grant program that requires participation in the Marion Downtown!’s award-winning business boot camp as a way of strengthening the skill sets of downtown business owners while improving the physical appearance of the Main Street district.
  • South Boston – A $20,000 DIG will help Destination Downtown South Boston develop a façade enhancement grant program that will provide matching grants of up to $5,000. In addition, the Main Street organization will develop a handbook to assist property owners in rehabilitating their properties and will host a forum that will allow property owners interested in rehabilitating their properties to meet one-on-one with design consultants for advice on their project.
  • Winchester – A $20,000 DIG will allow Winchester’s Old Town Development Board to provide matching façade improvement grants of up to $5,000. If property owners lack the resources to meet the 1:1 match requirement for the façade grant, they will be eligible to apply for commercial façade loans from the Winchester Economic Development Authority (EDA). The loans offer favorable repayment terms and are a useful alternative to the cash-matching requirement.

Entire block of Bristol’s Main Street district to become boutique hotel

Over the next 18 months, an entire block of Bristol’s Main Street district will be transformed into a destination hospitality complex centered around a new 70-room luxury boutique hotel called the Sessions Hotel.

The project by Creative Boutique Hotels (CBH), which includes Hal Craddock, Cornerstone Hospitality and MB Contractors, will span nearly the entire 800 block of State Street and 15 Commonwealth Avenue, encompassing the properties that currently include the Owen Equipment building and adjacent parking lot, KSS, Jobbers Candy and the Mill.

The Sessions Hotel will feature 70 upscale hotel rooms, a spa and a restaurant. The hotel will also boast a music stage and green space venues, a roof top garden café, and roof top bar. The project will blend historic architecture with new construction, similar to Craddock’s approach developing the acclaimed Craddock Terry Hotel and Event Center in Lynchburg’s Main Street district, which consistently maintains an 80 percent occupancy rate year round and has won numerous awards.

Construction will begin on the Sessions Hotel by March, with a projected opening date of Spring 2015.

CBH will be investing $20 million in capital expenditures to the property. In keeping with the local theme of the project, much of the skilled detail work will be done at the hands of local artists and trades people. Sessions Hotel will ultimately employ 70 FTEs, and guarantees a return of $1.2 million over the next five years in sales taxes alone.” – Andrew Trivette Bristol, Virginia Assistant City Manager

Creative Boutique Hotels is a Virginia-based partnership focused on the development of boutique hotels in small markets and on the repurposing of historic buildings, as well as new construction. The partnership combines the talents of three industry leaders. Cornerstone Hospitality conducts market analyses, determines viability and makes recommendations for property size, styling and operations management. Hal Craddock of Craddock Cunningham Architectural Partners specializes in the vision, design and repurposing of historic structures. MB Contractors provides a solid foundation of construction costs and craftsmanship.

In addition to the Sessions Hotel, other current boutique hotel projects include the expansion of their existing Craddock Terry Hotel in Lynchburg, the revitalization and expansion of the John Randolph Hotel in South Boston, the adaptive reuse of One Mill Place in Farmville and the feasibility, design and construction of a ground up boutique hotel called the Rutherfoord Hotel in Crozet.

Historic Preservation on Main Street

Building being demolished in Culpeper due to earthquake damage in 2011. Photo source: http://culpeper-virginia.blogspot.com/2011/08/culpeper-earthquake-levy-building.html

Historic building being demolished in Culpeper after 2011 earthquake. Photo source: http://culpeper-virginia.blogspot.com/2011/08/culpeper-earthquake-levy-building.html

Last fall a 9,000-square-foot commercial building was demolished in the heart of a Main Street district in Virginia to create more parking. The loss of the building permanently erased a piece of the architectural history and character of the historic downtown. It also opened up a 35-foot-long hole in the urban fabric of the historic district and may have increased the cost of creating future commercial and residential uses on the parcel, uses that are critical to the vitality of every downtown.  The demolition sent an estimated 800 tons of debris to the local landfill, reduced the property taxes contributed by the parcel to the local government by two-thirds, created no new businesses or jobs and added no new residents or employees to the downtown. In short, the demolition permanently removed a valuable asset from the Main Street district, and the hole in the street front will likely prove to be a long-term drag to the economic revitalization of the downtown.

Historic preservation is a cornerstone of the Main Street approach to downtown revitalization. Virginia’s historic downtowns were never islands unto themselves, but were, rather, once the hubs of economic and cultural activity in their regions. As such, they were the focus of a tremendous amount of financial investment and cultural expression by the residents of the regions surrounding the downtowns. The result is the unique historic architecture and pedestrian-friendly commercial districts that characterize Virginia’s Main Street communities.

The preservation of these unique built environments maintains the cultural and economic hearts of Virginia’s Main Street districts and provides substantial economic benefits to local communities. Despite some losses, Virginia’s Main Street organizations are working with property owners to preserve, rehabilitate and reuse the historic built assets in their downtowns.

Example of facade design assistance provided by Frazier Associates.

Example of facade design assistance provided by Frazier Associates.

Walk through any Main Street community and you will see refurbished facades with new paint, re-exposed store windows, repaired brickwork and new awnings. Local Main Street organizations facilitated many of these improvement projects with design assistance funded by VMS and provided to private property owners by Frazier Associates. Many property owners just need design assistance and are able to fund the façade improvements themselves while others take advantage of façade improvement grant and loan programs like those in Hopewell, South Boston and Fredericksburg.

With funding from VMS, Bedford, Bristol, Luray, Lynchburg, Marion, Martinsville, South Boston, St. Paul, and Waynesboro have developed financial feasibility studies for major historic, vacant or underused buildings in their Main Street districts. These organizations worked with owners of large “white elephant” buildings in the Main Street district to develop preliminary engineering and architecture reports, market demand studies for proposed reuses of the buildings and financial assistance packages. Prepared with this valuable information, the Main Street organizations are working to find potential property developers who can return these buildings to their status as major downtown assets.

Some Main Street organizations have even taken on ownership of historic buildings in order to save them from demolition until the right property developer could be located. Three years ago, after one of South Boston’s final three remaining tobacco warehouses burned and a second was demolished and sold off for the value of its bricks, the New Brick Warehouse, built in 1900, the last standing tobacco warehouse in South Boston, was also slated to be sold off for bricks.

Saving the historic warehouse from demolition was a high priority for Destination Downtown South Boston (DDSB), South Boston’s Main Street organization. DDSB convinced the building’s owner that there was more financial gain in donating the building to DDSB, a 501-C-3 non-profit organization, for a charitable donation tax deduction than there was in demolishing and selling off the bricks. Working with Preservation Virginia and the town government, the Main Street organization found a developer who was able to preserve the building and rehabilitate it for market rate downtown housing, which is in short supply in South Boston. The $2.6 million New Brick Historic Lofts will open January 2014, adding more than 20 new, market-rate housing units to downtown South Boston and preserving a piece of architectural tobacco heritage that is unique and authentic to South Boston.

We took on ownership of the New Brick Warehouse in order to save the last standing tobacco warehouse from being demolished, and we’ve been very picky in making sure that anyone we sell the building to has to adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Rehabilitative Standards because that was our main goal – to preserve its historic character. We ended up with the ideal project — our developers will be utilizing tax credits, which require historic standards, so we get to preserve the building as well as get 22 market-rate apartments in downtown.” – Tamyra Vest, Executive Director of Destination Downtown South Boston

Culpeper – 2012 Great American Main Street Award Winner

Congratulations to Culpeper Renaissance, Inc., a 2012 Great American Main Street Awards® (GAMSA) winner.  Recognized as a leader in implementing the Main Street Four-Point Approach®, embracing sound historic preservation practices and building strategic partnerships, Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. (CRI) was honored at the Main Street Awards Ceremony at the 2012 National Main Streets Conference in Baltimore, Md.

The National Trust Main Street Center’s annual GAMSA awards recognize exceptional accomplishments in revitalizing the nation’s historic Main Street commercial districts. CRI is credited with leading the once-thriving downtown district back to vitality after steady decline that began in the 1970s. The demolition threat to a once-bustling train depot was the spark that ignited citizen action. CRI was formed in 1987, became a Main Street program in 1988 and joined public and private entities in redeveloping the depot, making streetscape and infrastructure improvements and restoring badly damaged storefronts. Vacancies are now down to 6 percent from 86, thanks to a mix of banks, boutiques and coffee shops. Upper floor apartments along Culpeper’s Davis Street are occupied, and the downtown is again thriving.

Culpeper demonstrates what can be achieved with a strong commitment to historic preservation and a broad base of supporters,” says Doug Loescher, director of the National Trust Main Street Center. “This combination enabled its swift but thoughtful recovery from the 2011 earthquake and promises a bright future for Culpeper as a growing regional cultural and entertainment destination.

A great two-minute video summarizing the town’s accomplishments was shown at the awards presentation ceremony and can be viewed on the Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. 2012 GAMSA page.

Culpeper is the fourth Virginia Main Street community to be awarded a Great American Main Street Award. Previous Virginia GAMSA award winners include Staunton (2002), Manassas (2003) and Lynchburg (2006).

Can your Main Street Pass the Walkability Popsicle Test?

In his recent blog post, What Pictures Can Teach Us About Walkability, Kaid Benfield suggests that we can use some very simple techniques to determine how well our downtown is doing.  Benfield’s emphasis is on sustainable communities, which, he argues, are perhaps best described as communities that are walkable. Benfield asks, “is [the community] safe, comfortable, and enjoyable to walk in? Does it have an abundance of places to walk to and from? Is it human-scaled?” Benfield continues, “If the answer is yes, chances are that it also has many of the characteristics that smart growth and urbanist planners strive to achieve: density, mixed uses, connectivity, appropriate traffic management, street frontages, opportunity for physical activity and so on.”

Sounds like a lot of the design goals of the Main Street program, doesn’t it? Best of all, Benfield suggests that we can easily test the walkability of our downtowns with simple measures like the popsicle test (can a child easily and safely go out to buy a popsicle and return home before it melts?), the Halloween test (can children easily and safely trick-or-treat?) or the tourist test (is this a place where the landscape and community create an interesting, inviting space to explore and spend time?).   

Benfield’s blog post uses pictures from great walkable cities from around the world to allow the reader to mentally apply the popsicle, Halloween or tourist tests. His photos include shots from the streets and sidewalks of Geneva, Paris, Berlin, New York City, New Orleans, Ashville and Lynchburg. Lynchburg?! That’s right, the very walkable Lynchburg. And, if you didn’t see Benfield’s photoessay on Lynchburg published in May 2011, check out his blog post Will This Historic Downtown Recover?