The Bright Buzz: Kindling entrepreneur-focused transformation in Winchester

Many communities have decided that supporting local entrepreneurs is key to a thriving Main Street and one Virginia initiative is receiving national attention!

The National Main Street Center’s Main Street Story of the Week takes a look at how a local property owner created an innovative community space for entrepreneurs and entertainment to thrive.  Jennifer Bell, Winchester’s Downtown Manager, highlights the Bright Center, a 38,000 square-foot mixed-use development housing offices for 20 businesses and organizations, the Bright Buzz for entrepreneurs, and the Bright Box for entertainment.  This entrepreneur-focused downtown project kindles a movement of dramatic transformation within Old Town Winchester.

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The Bright Center, Winchester, Virginia

South Boston paints its empty store fronts

Empty store fronts are a drag on Main Street. They break up the flow of the Main Street commercial district, and studies show that they discourage shoppers from exploring downtown. But, what can be done? Well, how about turning empty store fronts into canvases for local artists? Check out this video to see the artistic creativity now on display in South Boston’s empty storefronts. And, watch the Destination Downtown South Boston website for more information about the fire hydrants painted like local historic figures that was mentioned in the video.

Small City Placemaking Conference and Festival to happen in Roanoke

Cityworks (X)po, a conference and festival about creating energetic places in small cities, will take place in Roanoke on October 27-30.

The event, spearheaded by entrepreneur and placemaker Ed Walker, will highlight best practices in creating, governing and participating in a vibrant cultural life in small cities. Some of the nationally-recognized speakers and performers include James Howard Kunstler, Kennedy Smith and Theaster Gates.

Register online, or email info@CityWorksXpo.com for student discounts.

Downtown Improvement Grants Awarded

Five Designated Virginia Main Street (VMS) Communities have been awarded 2011 Downtown Improvment Grants.  This year, VMS communities served by CSX Transportation rail lines were eligible for a match of up to $5,000 from the corporation, pushing the awards from $2,500 to a total of $7,500. 

Waynesboro and Winchester will receive CSX Transportation VMS Downtown Improvement Grants. Communities receiving VMS Downtown Improvement Grants are Berryville, Blackstone and Marion. The discrete projects must be completed by December of this year and were selected due to their capacity for impact, the level of volunteer involvement and the degree to which they leverage additional resources.  The following projects were selected from among the 17 submitted:

Waynesboro:  A downtown riverside observation deck along a key section of the South River will strengthen the connection between the community, the district, regional outdoor recreation and quality of life strategies. Several river access facilities and greenway trail resources intersect at the site.  ($7,500)

Winchester:  A flexible staging platform will be developed and purchased as part of a coordinated events strategy for Old Town Winchester. The professional staging system will create an enhanced audience experience at community events and performances.  ($7,500)

Berryville:  A downtown design improvements project furthers recommendations by the Virginia Main Street architect to engage property owners in simple district improvements. Grant products will include planters, a door improvement contest and a wayfinding kiosk. ($2,500)

Blackstone:  A historical markers project engages property owners, local historians and the Town in identifying and communicating the stories of the historical assets that shape this historic commercial district. ($2,500)

Marion:  A largely volunteer based “Big Surprise” façade improvement program will dramatically improve the appearances of three buildings, two of which are owned by local nonprofits. In a quick burst of activity, old facades will be removed, with basic improvements begun over the weekend.  ($2,500)

Heartwood opens doors as regional gateway

Heartwood: Southwest Virginia’s Artisan Gateway is now open.  The facility welcomes visitors to the region and connects lifelong residents with the artisans and musicians that surround them in the 19-county region of Southwest Virginia.

Perched on a knoll adjacent to I-81 on the campus of Abingdon’s Virginia Highlands Community College, the unique structure, by Roanoke’s Spectrum Design, should attract curious out-of-state drivers. But it’s much more than a convenient place to take a break from behind the wheel. It is the centerpiece of a regional downtown revitalization strategy coordinated by the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission.

The wood- and light-filled exhibition and performance space includes a retail gallery, a restaurant, a coffee and wine bar and lots of technological and personal assistance available for planning a trip around the region. Video stories of artisans, musicians and communities introduce visitors to the people and places of Southwest Virginia. And that’s just a taste of the place. For a full experience, Heartwood encourages personal explorations into the communities and their historic downtowns that make Southwest Virginia truly “Authentic, Distinctive, Alive.”

Designated Virginia Main Street Communities of  Abingdon, Marion and Radford are participating in the regional cultural heritage strategy. DHCD Commercial District Affiliates in the region are: Bluefield, Bristol, Floyd, Galax, Gate City, Haysi, Hillsville, Honaker, Independence, Jonesville, Pearisburg, Pennington Gap, Pound, Pulaski, Richlands, Saltville, St. Paul, Stuart, Tazewell and Wise.

Staunton rallies for the Sears Hill Bridge

The creative spirit of the Downtown Staunton community is driving a playful public engagement strategy around the restoration of the Sears Hill Bridge. The pedestrian bridge, which had linked the Sears Hill neighborhood and Downtown Staunton for more than 100 years, was condemned in January 2010.

Restoration of the bridge will cost about $200,000, and the community is pulling together to make it happen. In a collaborative strategy led by the Staunton Downtown Development Association (SDDA), Friends of the Sears Hill Bridge, and The Community Foundation of the Central Blue Ridge, residents can lend their talents and give their dollars through a short film competition and an art window installation.

A key element of the public awareness project involved Flying Warthog Films, a micro-enterprise recently funded through the Staunton Creative Community Fund. The team worked with volunteers to produce a short narrative film conceived by SDDA Exeutive Director Julie Markowitz. Watch the film here:

Read more about the effort  in the Augusta Free Press. For more information on the complete project or to donate, visit www.stauntondowntown.org or join the Facebook Cause here.

Classic settings for classic films

Community members working to revitalize their downtown often reminisce of Saturdays when residents poured into the streets. Frequently the movies are part of those recollections, and the black and white photos show it to be the case. People crowd the sidewalks, and on the marquee above them: Double Indemnity, Singing in the Rain, Some Like it Hot. 

These classic films are also listed on the  Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Begun in 1989, the list grows by 25 titles each year, reaching 550 this month.  No matter what your film preference, you’ll find a favorite on the list: B films and musicals, mysteries and animated features, documentaries and melodramas.  One will be there that changed your view of the world. (For me it was Number 360: Paths of Glory.) Film still matters, and it still matters downtown.

In Culpeper, the 1938 art deco State Theatre is undergoing a $10 million dollar renovation. This Designated Virginia Main Street Community is teaming The State with another community asset: the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the nearby Packard Campus of  Library of Congress.  Already drawing film buffs from around the Mid-Atlantic, Culpeper is uniquely positioned to spotlight film as part of our shared downtown experience.

They are not alone: a number of Virginia’s traditional commercial districts still have active movie palaces, and many more have jewels with the potential for restoration and use as multi-function community facilities. But with so many home viewing options available to film lovers, the challenge is to engage movie-goers in a different way by hosting film festivals, special screenings, panel discussions, and showings for targeted audiences. 

Try partnering with a local film club or community college in developing programs. Introduce each screening and greet the audience. Use it to start a community discussion. The goal can’t just be to bring people downtown: use this resource as another opportunity to create community among those sitting together in the dark.