Downtown Revitalization Group Seeking The Heart Of Farmville

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, November 11, 2010

FARMVILLE – Farmville's downtown revitalization committee had a banner day Monday.


During his update presentation to the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce, committee co-chair Chuck Ross unveiled one of the 'Go Tigers' banners that will greet the thousands of parents and alumni expected to pour into town for Saturday's clash with Randolph-Macon College. And Thursday afternoon saw H-SC president, Dr. Chris Howard, installed during inauguration ceremonies.

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One of the revitalization project's goals is to take better advantage of big weekends at H-SC and Longwood, targeting students, parents and alumni.

Ross, Dean of Longwood University's Cook-Cole College of Arts and Sciences, gave a substantive presentation that provided an overview of the overall project, its goals, a status report and what to expect in the spring of next year.

Though not a businessman, Ross said, “over the last six months or so I have joined up with a group of people who are making a concerted effort to try to help the downtown area of Farmville.”

Downtown Farmville, he said, has its merits but “it's not really what a lot of us feel that it could be. It's not what it was, in some ways, and in some ways that's good, but we see a lot of potential here for this to be a thriving college town.”

So why did this group come about?

“During the summer of this past year a number of folks began to look around at downtown, at quite a few vacant store fronts, looked at night at the lack of activity and there were letters to the editor of The Herald,” Ross said, “…a whole series of those. Jimmy spoke at Town Council. I spoke at Town Council. And it became apparent that there was a group of folks who were very interested in helping the downtown area get reborn, in a sense.”

There have been similar efforts in past, Ross noted, but the current group of 40 to 50 people are “a critical mass of a lot of folks that have a wide range of talents. We have artists, we have graphic designers, lawyers, we have architects, we have grant writers, fund-raisers, and so. So it's an interesting mix of folks that I think brings some interesting talents to the situation.”

Why care? There are shopping centers beyond the downtown district “which are great, so why is downtown important?” Ross asked, before providing the answer.

“Downtown can drive the economic health of the town in a lot ways,” he answered, noting that locally-owned businesses keep the money spent in their stores circulating through the local economy, rather than leaving and going to an out-of-town corporate headquarters.

And a thriving downtown will help attract new businesses, as well as make it easier for the area's major employers, such as H-SC, LU and Centra Southside Community Hospita, recruit and retain key personnel.

What's good for downtown Farmville, in other words, is good for the entire community.

The downtown, Ross said, also “symbolizes the heart of the community.”

Other communities have successfully revitalized their own downtown areas into precisely such a thriving heart and soul, Ross noted, showing slides of the downtown mall in Charlottesville, in addition to downtown Culpeper and Staunton.

“Some of them are doing it better,” Ross said, “than we are.”

But the Downtown Farmville committee is aiming to join their number as a success story.

“These places are not that different than we are,” he said, acknowledging that Charlottesville is obviously bigger “but these people have a head-start on us. It's a competitive world out there and I think that we all need to work together to get a little farther down the road to where these places are.”

The Farmville committee, Ross said, is hoping to help the various entities that are in the area that have a stake in downtown “to work more easily together and fill in some of the needs where those groups are unable to do something.”

The committee's vision is essentially to create a downtown that competes visually and in terms of civic activity and business energy with those communities that have already done so, themselves.

“Where you can go downtown on Saturday night and you can get a meal, you can go shopping, there's stuff open, students are down there, people from out of town are there, people from Farmville are there. Everybody's walking around. Young folks, old folks, every type of folk,” Ross said, “is down there. They gather. That is what the heart of a community should be.”

And that goal, he reiterated, can be achieved by “getting the various entities around to work, I think, better together.”

The committee, Ross said, “is willing to do whatever needs to be done” to achieve that goal, “filling in gaps in the current effort.”

Ross praised Farmville Town Manager Gerald Spates for his and the Town's work on public spaces, saying the committee's focus is on the privately-owned buildings and spaces, which is something the Town of Farmville cannot do, as a municipality.

Hence, Downtown Farmville.

“We want to work with Gerry for a harmonious end result,” Ross said, “that weaves in with the streetscape project, for example. And, again, we want to complement what other groups are doing, not duplicate it-that's just a waste of everybody's time. But wherever we can help, we want to help.”

The main issues in the way of achieving downtown revitalization include the many vacant storefronts-and how to bring a blend of businesses that attract “all the people I've been talking about downtown,” Ross said, “at a wide variety of hours.”

A marketing analysis is being conducted by the Longwood Small Business Development Center, that will include surveys for the public to provide input.

There will also be a public forum.

Secondly, the appearance of downtown is a main issue to be confronted and resolved, he said. “How do you make an inviting space for a wide variety of folks,” Ross offered, and steps are being taken to address that too.

The last of the three issues, he said, is to unite all of those entities and institutions that have a stake in downtown and help them “to work in the same direction as a team.”

To create a banner day for downtown Farmville.

Go Tigers, yes, but go downtown Farmville, too.