Focus | Moving downtown forward

WDDI discusses work plan for 2010

Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net
With AFP Audio

The downtown-revitalization effort in Waynesboro has been teetering for the past couple of years with the clear shift in focus of economic activity in Waynesboro to the West End on the economic side and questions about ongoing commitment from City Hall to downtown improvements on the political side.

The good news on the City Hall front from the past week regarding the newfound interest of City Council in finishing streetscape improvements on Main Street qualifies as positive momentum against that backdrop, even if the project hinges on approval of a federal-grant request and wouldn’t get going until the spring of 2011 at the earliest with that approval in hand.

“It does show that there is commitment on the part of the city and the City Council to take this to the next step,” said Len Poulin, the president of the nonprofit Waynesboro Downtown Development Inc., which held a press event Tuesday morning to talk about its plans for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

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AFP interview with WDDI leaders (4:10)
[audio:http://media.libsyn.com/media/thenewdominion01/WDDI_11-24.mp3]

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Ten years into its run, WDDI is still in the minds of some observers at the babysteps stage of its work, with the attention to date having been on matters like putting together an inventory of downtown properties and building spaces and drawing up plans for the impressive Riverfront Commons development concept that would no question be a wonderful future for Downtown Waynesboro, if ever somebody could figure out a way to get the will of City Hall and the business community behind it.

The debate over the streetscape project is another case in point. It’s been nearly three years since the first half of the streetscape project was wrapped up, covering the two-block area from the intersection of Main Street and Arch Avenue to the intersection of Main and Wayne Avenue. Funding for the Wayne Avenue-to-Church Street work got caught up in the swirl of local politics that swept up the Wayne Theatre and Riverfront Commons along with it.

“What’s been really frustrating about the streetscape debate is that after nine years of working on it, it’s become a discussion about putting bricks on a sidewalk. But really that’s not the end of the game, that’s the beginning of the game. That’s the means to the end,” Poulin said.

“When you talk about the entire project, we’re talking about creating a linkage to our greenway system, an enhanced Farmers’ Market and all kinds of other amenities that will encourage people to come downtown, spend time here. It gives us a venue for our events,” Poulin said.

“The endgame is the integration and the cohesiveness and the comprehensiveness of this plan. The bricks on the sidewalk are just the start of it,” Poulin said.

Babysteps. Poulin emphasizes that downtown revitalization can be a 25- to 30-year process.

“Even though it is incremental, and it is slow, the city has been supporting this process ever since WDDI started, and the private sector is as well. It’s happening. It just builds mass, and it starts to snowball. I think it’s ready to visually start to snowball within this year,” WDDI executive director Kimberly Watters said.



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