An Evening on the Bridge: Luray’s Hometown Fundraiser

Our guest blogger is Luray Downtown Initiative (LDI) Executive Director Meredith Dees.  She is a Luray native and recently returned after a career experience in Denver, CO overseeing regional retail operations for a yoga brand. 

Any Main Street manager will tell you that as soon as they hear the words “road construction” or “street closures” they become uneasy. We have a large project that has loomed over downtown Luray for some time. The days are finally numbered when we will replace our distressed 70 year-old bridge (c. 1934) connecting East and West Main Street. The local economy is heavily impacted by tourism, so our small downtown needs to capitalize on every single car full of visitors and leave them with an uplifting, memorable experience.

How do we bring positive energy to the reality that we are closing down the streets for several months and host a successful, charitable fundraiser and bridge-honoring celebration all in one night?  The Evening on the Bridge idea was born.

This event was a cross between a farm-to-table soiree and a family-style community gathering. Two hundred tickets were sold out at $75 each; no small feat in a town this size (population 5,000). We hoped for 10 sponsors and ended up with 17, several had never sponsored us before and many from community members that just wanted to show support!

We seated 200 locals down the center of the 123 foot-long bridge. Luray-based caterers and bakeries provided dinner and desserts and all of the drinks were also local, including wine and beer, as well as a signature “1934” cocktail crafted by our own distillery. Big band music played in the background and lights were strung overhead to create the perfect setting.

We highlighted the new design and paid homage to the historic bridge with speakers and pictures. There was a live auction, including a donated original art piece of the bridge by a local artist that took top dollar. Overall, we raised more than $15,000 (net revenue!) for Main Street and proceeds will fund newly branded light pole banners.

The only question I have received since the event, “when can we do it again?” And I cannot wait!

See a video of the event here >>>

An Evening on the Bridge, Luray Downtown Initiative, November 5, 2017

 

 

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The District Digest Vol. 2 – Downtown Ideas to Put to Work

While you were busy making a difference in your home town, you might have missed these thought-provoking posts:

  1. Holiday Customer Service: 7 Tips Retailers Should Not Ignore – Retail Minded
  2. Craft Beer’s Big Impact on Small Towns and Forgotten Neighborhoods – Curbed
  3. 6 Urban Projects Built Thanks to Online Civic Engagement – CitizenLab
  4. How to Encourage Entrepreneurship in Your Town – Strong Towns
  5. Millennials Prefer Revitalized Historic Areas Not Malls – Modern Cities

Abingdon, Virginia

 

VMS Commercial District Affiliate Grants Now Available!

Virginia Main Street has opened the application process for our first ever Commercial District Affiliate Grants! Affiliate Grants are designed to assist organizations and communities in achieving their downtown revitalization goals and be used for projects or planning purposes.

The maximum grant amount is $7,000 and can be used for…

  • non-profit organizational development;
  • vision/mission development;
  • work plan and budget development;
  • market studies;
  • downtown organization website development;
  • design projects;
  • entrepreneur support projects;
  • wayfinding system development;
  • economic vitality projects; or
  • other consultant services that will contribute to the historic downtown and for which other funds are not available.

Affiliate grants are available to registered DHCD Commercial District Affiliates and Virginia Downtowns. DHCD invites projects that hold the potential for positive impact on the downtown neighborhood’s long-term goals.

Applications for Affiliate Grants will be due on December 1, 2017, and the projects associated with the applications should be completed in our CAMS system by June 1, 2018. Our grant manual is available here!

Explore the Value of Partnerships at the 2017 Virginia Preservation Conference

Preservation Virginia is excited to co-host the Virginia Preservation Conference alongside the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in Petersburg, Virginia on Friday, October 6 at Union Train Station!

This year, they invite you to “Explore the Value of Partnerships” happening between organizations in the private and public sector that strengthen Virginia’s communities. You’ll get to hear from incredible guest speakers about the collaborations and preservation programs that help revitalize and sustain historic places, including Virginia’s downtowns.

Sessions will cover:

  • Leveraging Historic Tax Credits as Tools for Community Revitalization
  • Promoting Heritage and Recreational Tourism via Historical Interpretation
  • Establishing Public and Private Partnerships in Historic Preservation

As a conference sponsor, Virginia Main Street cheers our preservation partners focusing on a key topic.  Public-private partnerships are vital for a vibrant downtown, allowing your program to extend its reach and achieve better results.

Register today! >>

 

Remaking Petersburg – Style Weekly, September, 2014

Five Things your Economic Vitality Committee can do Today to Support Downtown

In my Virginia Main Street wanderings and conversations with directors I’ve been hearing a common refrain – “What should our Economic Vitality committee be doing?” A thought provoking question that I am sure goes unasked more often than asked. As fate would have it I recently participated in a Hillary Greenberg webinar on supporting small businesses that provided me with a “lightbulb” moment. Sometimes our boards and committees get caught up in thinking big and miss some of the small, every day, right-in-front-of-your-nose kinds of things that could yield big results for the district.

    1. Is your downtown business friendly? The EV committee can review municipal codes, fees, permit processes and timelines – anything that pertains to establishing or growing a business in the Main Street district. Identify anything that would be a detriment to starting a business or fixing a building then work with the municipality on a making the code friendlier to small business.
    2. Help new businesses navigate the permit process. Now that the EV committee has a thorough understanding of all of the local hoops to jump through to open a business downtown, turn that information into a step-by-step guide for new business owners.
    3. Survey retailers and business owners. In person, with a flyer, online – ask the questions. What would help you to improve your business? Have some check boxes –
      • website development?
      • access to capital?
      • cooperative advertising?
      • loan pool?
      • new signage?
    4. Hold Retailer Round Tables. Use those survey responses to generate topics! One month bring in a marketing guru to discuss website content. The next month (or quarter) have the Promotions committee members come to talk about, and get feedback on, upcoming retailing events. Bring in an accountant to give a Quickbooks lesson. Respond to the retailer’s needs to help them grow their businesses.
    5. Create a Mentorship Network. Every district has those retailers and restaurateurs who are knocking it out of the park. Set up a network of successful business owners to work one-on-one with those that are struggling.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are ideas that can be quickly assigned and implemented by a motivated EV committee that can make a real difference on the ground.

Does your EV committee do something innovative to improve downtown? We want to hear about it!

Main Street America Accredits 24 Virginia Communities

The National Main Street Center recently announced that 24 Virginia Main Street communities have been accredited for their performance in 2016 – congratulations to –

Abingdon, Altavista, Ashland, Bedford, Berryville, Blackstone, Bristol, Culpeper, Danville, Farmville, Franklin, Fredericksburg, Gloucester, Harrisonburg, Hopewell, Luray, Lynchburg, Manassas, Marion, St. Paul, South Boston, Staunton, Winchester, and Wytheville

The Main Street America™ accreditation process evaluates local Main Street programs according to 10 Standards of Performance and provides national recognition to those that meet these standards. The national accreditation program strives to:

  • Provide local and national visibility to local Main Street programs that understand and fully utilize the Main Street Four-Point Approach® and eight Main Street principles and that continue to evolve organizationally to meet new challenges;
  • Provide national standards for performance for local Main Street programs; and
  • Provide realistic goals and a tangible incentive for local Main Street programs that do not yet meet the criteria for national recognition.

Congratulations to our recognized Virginia communities!

A Tale of Two Community Engagement Events

As an inherently grassroots movement, effective community engagement is an essential component of any successful Main Street program. Without it, organization’s cannot effectively plan their work, recruit volunteers and board members, promote the district, or communicate impact. Main Street must be community driven.

This week I had the opportunity to participate in two very different community engagement events organized by Main Street organizations. One was an informal and ongoing, with a minimal agenda but strong interaction and conversation. The other was a highly planned, one-time “idea pop-up” that was focused on activity, imagination, and a critical mass of feedback from the community at large.

SDDA Monthly Round Table at Farmhouse Kitchen and Wares

Staunton Downtown Development Association has instituted monthly round-table discussions that draw about 25 stakeholders. Held in the evening at local restaurants, it is an opportunity for the board and staff to introduce specific topics to the public, get feedback, generate ideas, and impart information. The format and feel are informal and conversational, with new topics every month.

A small piece of HDR’s Idea Incubator

By contrast, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance held an interactive idea pop-up event that drew hundreds of enthusiastic participants over a three hour period. There were multiple stations for idea generation, sharing, comment, and creativity. This included an idea incubator, a pin board of urban design, mad-libs for visioning, and a physical chat room where the public could visit with board members to brainstorm together in real time.

I was blown away by both events – the energy, the participants, the enthusiasm, the snacks! Look for both Julie (Staunton) and Andrea (Harrisonburg) to walk us through their planning, their events, the impacts, and the outcomes in future blogs.

If your community wants to up its engagement game contact Virginia Main Street.