Vibrant downtown districts are a critical component of economic health. With support from the Virginia Main Street program, more areas across the commonwealth are open for business.

Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced 12 new grants totaling more than $144,000. Administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the funding helps communities across the state launch projects that can invigorate local streets, while maintaining historic charm.

“Downtown revitalization combined with the development of strong local entrepreneurial ecosystems are important components of creating bustling commercial districts that attract residents and visitors alike,” Northam said in a statement.

A 2015 report from Preservation Virginia explained that in the late 1970s, commerce was exiting downtown districts in favor of suburban retail shopping. In 1977, the National Trust for Historic Preservation responded with a model to boost downtown business, known as the “Main Street Approach.”

The four-point process hinges on “design” (how to improve physical and visual elements), “promotion” (how to position area positives and economic potential), “economic vitality” (how to involve local entrepreneurs and financial resources) and “organization” (how to generate partnerships and public involvement).

Since 1985, Virginia has participated in the framework, and over the first three decades, the results were clear. More than 3,000 net new businesses and 11,000 net new jobs arrived in downtown centers.

The support continues into 2020. Half of the 12 award winners were Downtown Investment Grants, which can go to any of Virginia’s 26 “designated Main Street communities.” These areas are deemed most ready by Main Street America, the national umbrella economic development program, to fully implement grant-based assistance. Three Virginia communities received top awards of $25,000 apiece: an innovation hub square in Staunton, an “art as economic development” project in Hopewell and a railway parking project in Blackstone.

The other six awards went to Commercial District Affiliates — 90-plus Virginia communities eligible for smaller batches of funds (up to $7,000). For example, one effort will help the Southern Virginia Food Hub in South Hill, a partnership connecting local produce farmers. Another grant will support the POP! Façade Revitalization Program in Radford, which helps with painting, awning and planter needs.

Grants from the Virginia Main Street program serve as a vital lifeline for downtown revitalization efforts. We recognize their support in helping our cities and towns move forward in a positive direction.

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