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 >>>

Recognizing the Hard Work on Main Street: Gloucester’s Village Corridor Enhancement Project

Virginia Main Street Merit Awards 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 fifth in a blog series to highlight each of the seven 2018 awards. Heads up, the 2019 Merit Awards nominations will be open early in the new year. Whether a DHCD Commercial District Affiliate or VMS Designated Community, start thinking about your program’s recent achievements.  We want to hear all about them!  

The “Best Downtown Public Improvement Project” award is given to the community that has implemented a design project in the public sphere.  A focus on quality design supports a community’s revitalization by enhancing the physical elements of downtown while capitalizing on the unique assets that set the commercial district apart.  Gloucester’s Main Street Preservation Trust Executive Director Jenny Crittenden accepted the award for their Village Corridor Enhancement Project.

The 2009 Gloucester Court House Village Plan plan recommended that the trust lead the charge to improve the two gateways leading to the Main Street commercial district.  The goal was to provide visual continuity between the gateways and to attract visitors to downtown shopping, dining, and historic sites.

The first phase of the project included the installation of 11 banner poles, the new Virginia Main Street sign, landscaping and brick pavers.  Additionally, the trust and environmental planning firm VHB Inc. worked with the county and local garden club to relocate existing public art to the sites and planted 8,000 daffodils, daylilies, roses and native ornamental grasses.

Where people may have driven by the understated gateways to Main Street in the past, they now look and turn to see what is beckoning them.  This project sends the message that the community invests in the downtown, much like its business and property owners do with their buildings.

Congratulations to Gloucester’s Main Street Preservation Trust and local partners!

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

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.

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