45 years and counting …

Stop the Presses column by Chris Graham

Downtown Waynesboro has been the focus of those who want to see it return to some form of former splendor since way back in 1962.

So … what do have to show for the past 45 years of work?

Well, there are those new sidewalks – leading to retail spaces that are increasingly being left empty.

There was all the hoopla a few years back, for instance, about the Waynesboro, Within These Walls marketing plan that was going to make Waynesboro a home-furnishings destination.

The effort brought a Charlottesville company, Under the Roof, over the mountain to a space in downtown left vacant by the departure of Heilig-Myers several years back.

For all the attention the decision of Under the Roof coming here brought at the time, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of followup on the part of the city officials who wooed them here.

Aside from those new sidewalks, of course – which were completed well behind schedule and did their part to snarl the traffic flow in the downtown district, thanks to a decision to install what are called bumpouts at the intersections of Main and Wayne and Main and Arch.

So the fact that Under the Roof has essentially closed its doors – a sign in the window informs us that the reason the store hasn’t been open lately is that inventory work is being done, but that work has apparently been ongoing since the first of the year – should not be a surprise.

Neither should it be a surprise to hear that a longtime downtown staple, Waynesboro Rapid Print, is about to follow suit.

Or that the Mad Anthony’s coffee shop might soon join the list of former downtown businesses.

Makes you wonder what good it did to spend all that money fixing up the sidewalks – when downtown is fading fast.

I’m not suggesting that it’s the government’s job to fix downtown – whatever form the idea of fixing downtown would be expected to take.

But it is interesting that in my years of covering local politics, which dates back to the 1996 elections, it seems to me that every single candidate for open seats on Waynesboro City Council has made it his or her sworn duty to do something about downtown.

No matter that the center of the city has since moved from near the river to the Rosser Avenue-Lew Dewitt Boulevard corridor – our leaders have said the old downtown is important to them.

They’ve committed your money to studies, to funding for a downtown-redevelopment organization, to the Within These Walls marketing scheme, to those sidewalks – hey, at least we have the sidewalks.

What they haven’t done – effectively, anyway – is engage the private sector in what seems to me to be the only way for things to go at this point.

And no, I’m not talking about more new sidewalks.

There has been talk ongoing for the past few years about the efforts of a private nonprofit to lead the redevelopment of the Wayne Theatre located in the heart of the downtown district.

That would be a start – providing an arts and entertainment venue for a business district sorely in need of an anchor.

Also in the discussions in recent years has been an effort to undertake a massive redevelopment plan that would recreate downtown Waynesboro almost along the lines of San Antonio’s River Walk area – with a mixed-use development of townhouse homes and retail establishments overlooking the river and an expanded greenway area that itself would serve as an attraction to residents and visitors alike.

Let’s see if we can weigh the options here – more new sidewalks, or an actual redevelopment project that might also serve as a catalyst for the revival of the East Side.

I don’t know – those new sidewalks are nice.


Chris Graham is the executive editor of The New Dominion.

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