Friday, March 17, 2023

Revitalization plan in Danville, Va., pop. 42,000, generated skepticism, but now it's a model for other communities

Main Street in Danville (Photo by Rick Barker Properties)
The Industrial Development Authority in Danville, Virginia, "bought old, empty buildings — sometimes at above-market prices — with the goal of selling them to developers. The strategy drew some criticism over the years, but local leaders believe it’s paid off in increased tax revenues and new vitality for previously depressed areas of the city," Grace Mamon reports for Cardinal News, which reports on Southwest and Southside Virginia.

"Locals say that Craghead Street used to be like a ghost town, and now it’s home to restaurants, apartments, a brewery and a science center. The city’s downtown, called the River District, alone has seen about $300 million in public and private investment in the last decade," Mamon reports.

The IDA's approach began with buying old Dan River Mills properties "after the industry left in 2006, depressing the local economy," Mamon notes. Then it expanded the strategy to non-mill buildings, especially in blocks occupied by tobacco warehouses, another industry that declined, because many absentee owners weren't inetrested in redevelopment.

Corrie Bobe, Danville’s economic development director, recalled the skepticism: “People said, ‘Why are you spending so much money in one central area when there are other needs throughout the entire community?’” However, "Cut city officials believed that targeting the River District was a priority, predicting that a vibrant downtown would spur growth and redevelopment in other areas," Mamon reports, noting that "Ignoring downtown redevelopment had cost the city in the past."

She recalls the story of a manufacturing CEO who made an unannounced visit with his wife:  “They took one drive up Main Street and saw a bunch of boarded-up buildings, no one there, this dead downtown,” said Telly Tucker, economic-development director from 2004 to 2020. “It didn’t take long for them to say, ‘This is not the place where we want to put our business.’” She told Mamon that the loss of that opportunity was painful, but also was “a blessing to hold that mirror up.”

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