News release by the River District Association
Main Street America announced today that River District Association (RDA) in Danville has received the prestigious Great American Main Street Award, which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. The 2023 GAMSA designations, sponsored by The Hartford, were presented at the opening plenary for the Main Street Now Conference in Boston, Mass.
Selected by a national jury of industry professionals and local leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, River District Association is being recognized for creating a fertile environment for economic vitality through exceptionally strong collaborative leadership and partnerships.
“River District Association demonstrates that a strong organizational foundation based on an ethos of collaboration and strategy leads to transformative change,” said Main Street America Interim President and CEO, Hannah White. “Their tireless efforts to build meaningful relationships with local stakeholders to inform and realize a holistic economic development approach has created an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the downtown and its surrounding region.”
Danville’s downtown is well known for its rich manufacturing heritage, which built large brick facilities along the town’s eponymous waterway. As these industries shrank during the 1980s-2000s, the downtown suffered economically. Today, the downtown is not only rebounding, but is thriving as an attractive place for residents and visitors to remember the area’s history while contributing to a vibrant future for all.
Revitalization work led by RDA began in 1999 with a mission to coordinate efforts with the city agencies. While these early efforts resulted in some progress, meaningful change was hampered by the continued decline of the town’s mill industry. Strategically designed action plans in 2011 and 2017—which included the allocation of public dollars into the downtown and retooled RDA’s organizational structure based on the principles of the Main Street Approach—supported sustainable economic initiatives, multifunctional promotional activities, and property development.
The results: Danville’s vision of a vibrant downtown is coming to fruition. Since 2010, the River District has leveraged $52 million in public investment to attract $310 million in private investment to facilitate the creation of more than 150 businesses and the addition of over 1,200 residential spaces.
“This is a tremendous honor for our community, and very important for our local residents who have been through so much economic turmoil over the decades,” said Diana Schwartz, CEO at River District Association. “This recognition will continue to drive home the understanding that Danville truly is a city once again on the rise. It is because of the resilience of the people in our community that Danville is a great place for those that choose to live, work, play, pray, and invest in.”
RDA credits a creative and entrepreneurial mindset, as well as intentional efforts to increase the strength, collaboration, trustworthiness, and reputation of the organization as their keys to success. Notable accomplishments include investing in the professional development of board members, establishing rock-solid relationships with stakeholders, and implementing thoughtfully constructed, yet ambitious strategic plans.
Their Dream Launch series is credited as its most impactful programming. Consisting of four distinct, yet integrated programs, the program equips budding entrepreneurs and established businesses with education and financial tools. Since 2018, the program’s business bootcamp series has provided free start-up training to over 465 participants (200 of which completed all 6 Dream Launch Bootcamp Classes) and has distributed $375,000 in grants.
“Danville's transformation is proof of the power of the Main Street Approach,” remarked Courtney Mailey, Virginia Main Street State Coordinator at Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. “Leaders in every facet of the community are united in a common vision and plan for the future. And they stick to it! They understand the importance of downtown revitalization and entrepreneur support in creating a positive quality of life for the entire region.”
The organization’s Vote Your Main Street campaign resulted in securing a $150,000 preservation award that provided funds for the renovation of a historic property, an increase sense of community pride, and organizational sustainability for RDA as a part owner in the building. Their façade improvement program has provided nearly 40 property owners and tenants with grants, in-kind professional services, and technical assistance. From fresh coats of paint to new signs, these improvements are inspiring a positive multiplying effect on the community’s sense of pride and physical appearance.
"We are immensely proud of the city of Danville, the Danville River Association, and the residents for earning this coveted national award for their Main Street efforts," said Bryan Horn, Director of DHCD. "Danville continues to exemplify the profound impacts that downtown revitalization can have on communities and regional economies, and we applaud them for their efforts to create a vibrant community to live, work, and visit."
ABOUT THE GREAT AMERICAN MAIN STREET AWARDS
The Great American Main Street Award program recognizes communities exemplifying the use of the Main Street Approach™ to revitalize commercial districts. Winners are selected from a nationwide pool of applicants by a jury of Main Street professionals and leaders in the fields of community and economic development and historic preservation. Since the award’s inception in 1995, over 100 Main Street programs have been honored as GAMSA communities. For more information, visit mainstreet.org.
ABOUT MAIN STREET AMERICA
Main Street America leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. For more than 40 years, Main Street America has provided a practical, adaptable, and impactful framework for community-driven, comprehensive revitalization through the Main Street Approach™. Our network of more than 1,200 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. For more information, visit mainstreet.org.
ABOUT RIVER DISTRICT ASSOCIATION
River District Association (RDA) melds the past with the present to provide a vibrant economic core in Danville, Virginia. RDA works with the City of Danville, area businesses, and institutions to develop programs and events to foster community collaboration, market the area's unique assets, improve the physical appearance of the historic downtown, and to attract and retain businesses. RDA is an Accredited Main Street America and Virginia Main Street program. For more information, visit riverdistrictassociation.com.