Staunton hosts sustainable Main Street training

On July 20-21, Staunton hosted a statewide training presented by the Virginia Main Street program at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center.

The VMS program, managed by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development since 1985, works to revitalize Virginia’s historic downtowns by providing training and technical support. Participating communities improve and beautify their traditional downtown districts, encouraging private investment, business development and tourism.

Mayor Lacy King, Vice Mayor David Metz and City Manager Stephen Owen were on hand to welcome the 70 representatives of downtown development organizations, local governments and nonprofit groups who spent two intensive days exploring ways to create local jobs while efficiently using resources. Topics included preserving historic buildings, building collaborative partnerships and incorporating green building practices.

Staunton, which has strategically undertaken sustainable-living strategies in its support of green entrepreneurs and historic preservation, was an intentional choice for the location of the training.

“The rehabilitation of existing structures is the greenest start we can make,” said speaker Andrea Dono, National Trust Main Street Center program manager of research and training. “It conserves land and limits transportation costs and resource use. And, reinvesting in traditional, walkable downtown districts creates the places where people want to be. It sustains community.”

Green projects studied during the two-day session included the Innovation Center, a reused tobacco warehouse at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston, the Hotel Floyd, a unique, locally-themed and environmentally-friendly inn and Harrisonburg’s Friendly City Food Co-op, a downtown, community-owned grocery store.

“This is not fringe thinking,” said VMS Program Manager Jeff Sadler. “If you look around Virginia, and across the country, communities pursuing these strategies are communities of choice.”

At the session, communities shared best practices for engaging stakeholders, attracting investment and supporting entrepreneurs and merchants. Meghan Williamson of Staunton Creative Community Fund (SCCF) presented the early successes of Staunton’s micro-loan initiatives supporting entrepreneurship in the region.

“Sustainable Main Street stressed a comprehensive look at community goals in developing and implementing strategies for downtown,” said Julie Markowitz of Staunton Downtown Development Association (SDDA), who helped put on the event. “A strong sustainability strategy already in place in Staunton includes our tools to encourage local shopping. Spending our money locally has a strong multiplier effect. It sustains the businesses, and in turn, is spent again, locally. Through the retail taxes collected, it sustains vital services for our community.”

Currently, there are 21 designated VMS communities and 80 DHCD Commercial District Affiliates. Staunton, a Great American Main Street Community, received its designation in 1995.

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