The Destination Express: Enhancing the Visitor Experience with History

The Ashland Main Street Association and its local partners are dedicated to making downtown an amazing destination.  How?  By embracing their transportation history they are improving the visitor experience and creating memorable central gathering spaces. Executive Director Tom Wulf is our guest blogger with the details.    

Earlier in 2017, mural artist Ed Trask and his team finished a masterpiece on the side of the Caboose Wine & Cheese shop in downtown Ashland–a 250 foot long rendering of a locomotive that traveled Ashland’s tracks 50 years ago. The mural honors the late Art McKinney, former owner of the building and great steward of his historic properties, depicted at the train’s helm as the engineer. I captured the entire mural using a video drone.

The mural is one of several exhibits for the proposed Mid-Atlantic Railroad Park. The park will also include the installation of train-related artifacts as public art exhibits along the key corridor into downtown, England Street. This initiative will not only encourage walking tours along England Street, it will also strengthen Ashland’s brand as a railroad town.

The concept aligns with one of Ashland Main Street’s key strategic priorities, extend the Railroad Avenue [Ashland’s “Main Street”] experience to the England Street corridor.  A railroad park will spread the pedestrian-friendly feel of Railroad Avenue throughout the district and increase foot traffic to England Street restaurants and retailers.

The Ashland Main Street Association will host the upcoming Virginia Main Street Regional Rev-Up, Start with “Why”: Creating Purpose-driven Special Events, November 8, 10 AM – 2 PM.  Register today and experience Ashland up close!

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Practical, Low-cost Ideas to Make Your Downtown A Destination

What can your Main Street program do to make downtown more of a destination for locals and visitors?

Would a punch list of key actions be helpful?  With today’s market, Main Street communities are happily positioned for a resurgence.  As a Main Street advocate, having a plan to ride that wave and make your downtown the best and brightest means nailing down the best strategy and the right activities. This can feel a little like trying to catch paper money in a cash booth.

There is no silver bullet, but there are lots of resources and experts that complement the Main Street Approach. Author Roger Brooks is one of them.  For more than 30 years Roger has helped transform ordinary places into extraordinary destinations. Currently, Roger is promoting a free series of webinars that focus on why downtowns are popular and more important than ever. He showcases low-cost activities that downtown advocates are doing to create vibrant, successful destinations for both locals AND visitors.

The recording of the first of the series is only available until July 28.  You can catch the rest of the series @RogerBrooksInternational.

Virginia’s Craft Beer Scene is Booming

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently announced that Virginia is now home to 206 licensed breweries, a 468% growth since 2012, when the tasting room bill, SB604, passed the General Assembly. A newly released economic impact study shows that Virginia’s booming beer industry contributes more than $9.34 billion annually to Virginia’s economy.

“In addition to the direct economic impacts of manufacturing, the industry generates increased tourism-related revenues, provides new production and sales opportunities for our agricultural producers, and enhances community revitalization and development efforts in both rural and urban areas of the Commonwealth”, said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore.

This success story is close to home on Virginia’s Main Streets. One of the latest brewery additions is Sugar Hill Brewing Company in St. Paul, opened fall 2016.  The brewery added a much needed restaurant that is now a local favorite, a tourist destination, and a big economic boost to the small town. It complements the economic development strategy as an ecological and commercial hub – connecting downtown to hiking trails, off-road recreation, and summertime tube floats and kayaking on the Clinch River.

A frothy wave is crashing into our Main Street communities; one that is having a favorable impact on local opportunity, character, and spirits.  Check out more Virginia craft brewery offerings here >>

Public Art: Making downtown a joyful, active, and social place

May 15-19, 2017 marked Art Week @StrongTowns and, while those days have come and gone,  public art catalyzes Main Street’s unique vitality throughout the year.

Old Town Winchester, host of the upcoming Virginia Main Street Downtown Intersections, creates an outdoor gallery experience through the Artscape program. An annual, juried art competition, Artscape  reproduces selected artwork on banners that hang throughout the downtown.  During the summer, young families are drawn to the downtown for a splash pad installation, which illuminates in the evening.

Public art can serve to make your downtown very memorable, motivating visitors to share their experience with others or surely to return. @StrongTowns author Marielle Brown emphasizes playful art to help visitors fall in love with your downtown:

We should look for opportunities to incorporate climbing, sitting, playing and general whimsy through public art, when appropriate. It may involve grappling with questions of liability and insurance at the municipal level, but the payoff will be more joyful, active and social places.

Whether you are planning a public art project, or not, you will find gale-force ideas to bring to your next Main Street committee brainstorm.

Check out more here >>>

 

Old Town Winchester Splash Pad and Public Restrooms

Virginia’s Award Winning Destination Tourism

Governor McAuliffe recently announced that the Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC) received a national tourism industry award for its work promoting the Virginia Oyster Trail, a new initiative connecting travelers with Virginia’s oyster farms, raw bars, wineries, restaurants, artisans, and downtowns like Urbanna, Cape Charles, and Chincoteague.

VTC was recognized with the prestigious National Council of State Tourism Directors Mercury Award during the U.S. Travel Association’s annual Education Seminar for Tourism Organizations conference. Winning programs serve as models to foster imagination and innovation in the development of future destination programs.

“I am proud of the coalition of partners, both public and private, that are making a difference as we build the new Virginia economy. This award demonstrates that when our state agencies work together, we can make a major impact on the future of our great Commonwealth,” said Governor McAuliffe.

Since its official launch last November, the Virginia Oyster Trail has received significant praise from consumers and has piqued the interest of travelers seeking a unique culinary travel experience. This year, VTC saw a 31 percent increase in visitation to oyster-related content on its website, www.Virginia.org.  Virginia oysters continue to be a major driver for tourism, an industry that is an instant revenue generator for the Commonwealth. Last year, visitors to Virginia spent $23 billion, which supported 222,000 jobs and contributed $1.6 billion in state and local taxes to the Commonwealth.

The Virginia Tourism Corporation partnered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Shellfish Growers of Virginia, Virginia Seafood Council, Virginia Marine Products Board, and Artisans Center of Virginia, in addition to local tourism offices and planning district commissions, to make the Virginia Oyster Trail project a reality.

To learn more about Virginia oysters and the Oyster Trail, click here.

Downtown Cape Charles, Virginia

Downtown Cape Charles, Virginia

Main Street and Wine; a Great Pairing

Virginia’s thriving wine industry is boosting the state’s economy and local Main Street districts alike with a total impact of approximately $1.37 billion annually, according to a newly released economic impact study. This figure is an increase of 82 percent from the last study conducted in 2010.

“…one of our top agriculture goals was to make Virginia the preeminent East Coast destination for wine and winery tourism, and I am pleased our efforts are helping make this a reality,” said Governor McAuliffe. “This new study shows that this growth is being driven by small wineries, which demonstrates that the increased rural economic development is truly beneficial to local communities.”

The report showed that from 2010 and 2015, the number of wineries increased 35 percent, from 193 to 261. The number of full-time equivalent jobs at wineries and vineyards saw a 73 percent increase, from 4,753 to 8,218. Wages from jobs at wineries and vineyards increased 87 percent during the same time period as well, from $156 million, to $291 million.

Tourism to Virginia wineries also showed impressive growth. The number of people visiting wineries grew by 39 percent, from 1.6 million visitors in 2010 to 2.25 million visitors in 2015. At the same time, wine-related tourism expenditures grew dramatically from $131 million to $188 million, a significant 43 percent increase.

Culpeper’s Hoptober Fest 2016

Wine and Virginia’s downtowns make a great pairing.  Culpeper Renaissance Inc. expanded their wildly successful craft beverage festival to twice a year and the downtown features several shops that sell local craft beverages, Culpeper Cheese Company and Vinosity.  In Staunton eonophiles can visit Yelping Dog for a their wine fix, and don’t miss Saturday tastings at Vintages by the Dan in Danville. However it is done, Main Street recognizes the local economic impacts of partnering with regional craft beverage producers.

Check out the full 2015 Economic Impact Study of Wine and Wine Grapes on the Commonwealth of Virginia and don’t forget to visit the Virginia Wine Marketing Office for more information on the industry statewide.

Discover What’s “Wythein:” Downtown Wytheville’s Vibrant New Website

DiscoverWytheinMain Street program websites come in many shapes and sizes.  The challenge is to create a simple and fresh website that promotes the Main Street organization and local brand while showcasing the unique charm of downtown and all it has to offer.

Downtown Wytheville Inc. recently updated their online presence with a website refresh that provides an informative, enticing and interactive experience for the user.  The site offers useful tools and information to its visitors, such as an easy to navigate, interactive map with a wide variety of filters from dining and shopping, to local community resources.  It appeals to entrepreneurs looking to locate in downtown by delivering a welcoming message, business investment guide and information on incentive programs.  It showcases the Main Street program, its mission, and ways to engage in support of downtown; and with mobile devices accounting for an increasing percentage of web traffic, Downtown Wytheville’s website can attractively acclimate to any screen resolution.

Learn more >>