Danville’s River District Association has won the Great American Main Street Award, a designation that recognizes communities for their revitalization of historic commercial districts.
In September, the RDA was named a semifinalist for the award for the second year in a row.
It was the only semifinalist from Virginia; the other seven were Denison, Texas; Florence, South Carolina; Metuchen, New Jersey; Orlando, Florida; Ruston, Louisiana; Sheridan, Wyoming; and Sykesville, Maryland.
Main Street America is a national organization that works to revitalize historic commercial districts. Other cities in Virginia, including Lynchburg, Lexington, South Boston and Altavista, also have Main Street organizations.
The annual award “recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization,” a Monday release from the RDA said.
The RDA was selected as the winner by industry professionals and local leaders in economic development and historic preservation from across the country, according to the release.
“This recognition will continue to drive home the understanding that Danville truly is a city once again on the rise,” Diana Schwartz, CEO of the RDA, said in the release.
In the past decade, $50 million in public investment in Danville’s River District has resulted in $310 million in private investment, according to the city.
Hannah White, Main Street America’s interim president, said in the release that the RDA is an example of how collaboration can lead to transformative change.
“[The RDA’s] tireless efforts to build meaningful relationships with local stakeholders to inform and realize a holistic economic development approach has created an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the downtown and its surrounding region,” White said.
The RDA began its revitalization work in Danville in 1999, after several decades of decline in the city’s main industries of tobacco and textiles.
“While these early efforts resulted in some progress, meaningful change was hampered by the continued decline of the town’s mill industry,” the release said.
Strategically designed action plans in 2011 and 2017 furthered these efforts using principles of the Main Street Approach to “support sustainable economic initiatives, multifunctional promotional activities, and property development.”
The RDA’s Dream Launch class was recognized as its most influential programming. Dream Launch is a free program that teaches skills and information that business owners need in a six-week bootcamp-style workshop. It has served more than 465 participants since it began in 2018.
And the RDA’s facade improvement program has given grants to nearly 40 property owners and tenants to assist with upgrades like fresh coats of paint and new signs to improve the physical appearance of the River District.
Danville’s RDA will hold the Great American Main Street Award designation forever.
“This is a tremendous honor for our community, and very important for our local residents who have been through so much economic turmoil over the decades,” Schwartz said in the release.