Virginia Tourism Corporation Marketing Specialist Sandra Tanner will hold an open house from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Halifax Town Hall at 70 South Main Street.
Anyone in the community is welcome throughout the day to stop by to offer their ideas and share examples about what they would like to see developed in the downtown and throughout the historic courthouse town, (population 1,309), which has served as the County Seat since 1777.
This is a continuation of Halifax’s efforts to strengthen its Main Street program and involvement after almost 30 business owners, property owners, government officials and interested citizens met in September for a presentation by Tory McGowan, community development specialist with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
McGowan spoke on the success of the Virginia Main Street program. The importance of downtown areas has shifted since the early part of the 20th century, according to McGowan, from where people needed to be to where they want to be.
Main Street development promotes public/private partnerships, creates a more vibrant downtown, gives residents more of a sense of place and gives the area more of a regional allure, McGowan said.
“This is grassroots driven,” said Tanner, “it doesn’t work if the community doesn’t get involved.” Residents, businesses and members of civic organizations located both inside and outside of town are encouraged to participate in this initiative to renew revitalization efforts making Halifax a thriving place to live, work, shop and play.
According to Tanner, VTC’s partnership marketing role in this process is to listen, encourage open and candid dialogue and then take all of the input from the community to compile comments and ideas gathered.
Later in the summer, a group of “sparkplugs” (15-20 people committed to completing tasks) consisting of business/property owners, residents, and local organizations/groups will be invited to attend a day long planning session to come up with the goals/objectives based on the community’s feedback and vision for Halifax which will become a part of the town’s strategic economic development plan.
“I think support for small, locally owned businesses is key for a thriving small town paradigm,” said Edward Jones financial advisor Chelsey Garrett on the upcoming input session. Garrett, whose office and residence are both located within walking distance to the Halifax County War Memorial added, “The ability to get to know business owners and see familiar faces creates a feeling of ‘home’ outside the home.”
The Halifax Village Association (HVA) Community Development Committee organized a well-attended presentation by McGowan with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) in September at the Halifax Sportsmen’s Club, with an introduction by Destination Downtown South Boston Executive Director Tamyra Vest (South Boston became a Designated Virginia Main Street in 2004).
McGowan featured examples of DHCD’s Virginia Main Street (VMS) “Refresh” Approach to improving economic development strategies and enhancing the quality of life for small town communities throughout the commonwealth.
“The importance of downtown areas has shifted since the early part of the 20th century,” McGowan explained to the enthusiastic crowd, “from where people needed to be to where they want to be.”
The town of Halifax, through its partnership with Halifax County, and the Halifax Village Business Association, now HVA, became a VMS Commercial District Affiliate (CDA) in 2003 as part of DHCD’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Award for the Halifax Downtown Revitalization Project Master Plan and Phase I Streetscape Construction/Façade Improvement Program completed in 2008.
The town has maintained its VMS Commercial District Affiliate status since that time, providing attendance to DHCD workshops by town staff, elected officials, planning commission and HVA members and undertaking various activities with continued improvements in the downtown, its commercial approach corridors and identified gateways with the establishment of the town of Halifax Courthouse Historic District (2011), Phase I Downtown Utility Relocation and Telecommunications Project (2012), Halifax Marketplace-Farmer’s Market and HVA Community Clock Plaza Project (2011/2015), Halifax County Enterprise Zone [EZ-DHCD] (2013), Mountain Road Historic District Boundary Increase (2015), Banister River Gateway and Banister Lake Boat Landing Project (2015/2018) and VDOT MAP-21 grant applications for the Halifax Downtown Streetscape Extension Project (construction in 2020-2021).
“Tory and Tamyra’s presentations made it clear Halifax will benefit from more coordination in promotion, marketing, civic projects, historic and design awareness, under DHCD’s Main Street approach to bring vibrancy to our downtown,” said attendee Darnell Abbott of Abbott Farm, Garden and Gun.
VMS is a preservation-based economic and community development program that follows a national model. The national program began in 1977 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation initiated a pilot program to revitalize historic downtowns that had declined in the decades since the 1950s.
The Virginia program is one of 39 statewide in operation in the United States.
A 2015 study by VCU found that since 1985, almost $2 billion in total economic impact was generated, including $870 million in employee pay by Main Street activities.
“Beyond the numbers, Main Street has helped Virginians embrace the cultural history, the sense of community and the quality of life that a flourishing historic downtown can provide,” the authors wrote, adding, “Virginia Main Streets attract both residents and tourists to their shops and eateries, and they also attract artisanal and high-tech businesses.”
“We are thrilled to recognize this year’s 288 Main Street America Affiliate programs,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center.
By receiving its 2019 accreditation, the town of Halifax has demonstrated a renewed commitment to be part of a national network of more than 1,200 neighborhoods and communities dedicated to creating high-quality places and to building powerful economic engines for community transformation through preservation.
In 2018, Main Street America programs generated $4.93 billion in local investment, helped open 5,310 net new businesses, generated 25,301 net new jobs and catalyzed the rehabilitation of 8,146 historic buildings.
Halifax Town Council Business Development Chairman Mike Trent said, “We’ve got a town that’s compact and walkable; it’s historic; it’s surrounded by the river and beautiful countryside; it’s a great place to grow a business and raise a family.”
The attorney who lives and works on Main Street added, “Taking 20-40 minutes to share your ideas will be time well spent in helping build a brighter future for our wonderful town.”