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Visioning session looks to future of South Boston

A total of 52 persons from the business district corridor interested in the future of Downtown South Boston attended a visioning session Tuesday evening at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.

Tamyra Vest, executive director of Destination Downtown South Boston, said she was “ecstatic” at the turnout for the visioning session. 

Michelle Jones of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development facilitated the session.

Also attending from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development were Doug Jackson and Brad Below of the Virginia Main Street Program, Gail Moody of the Southside Planning District Commission and Sandra Tanner of the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

During the two-hour session, the group discussed what they liked about downtown, what the opportunities were - the ideas, activities, projects, etc. that could benefit the continued redevelopment of downtown by building on strengths and weaknesses and what the challenges are.

The town has had professionals look at the community and make recommendations to tie downtown investments together.

Town Manager Ted Daniel presented an overview of the planning grant for the downtown effort before turning the meeting over to Jones.

During the lively session, the group reviewed progress and regrouped, preparing to prioritize its next steps and solidify a vision answering the question for tomorrow – “What’s your downtown South Boston.”

Jones asked the audience what do people come to South Boston for and then focused on South Boston’s identity.

“Visioning is so important to determine how to move forward with partnerships, collaborations and commitments,” Vest said.

The group looked at what the town already has that gives it a strong identity, celebrated the assets and building blocks currently in place, and then indicated the concerns and some opportunities using the town’s strengths.

Also speaking during the session was Sandra Tanner with Virginia Tourism Corporation discussing what tourism brings to this area.

She stressed that tourism improves the quality of life for citizens.

Architect Hal Craddock described plans to develop the John Randolph Hotel in a “boutique hotel” in downtown South Boston and gave an overview of the project explaining the next 12 to 18 months are critical.

Currently a financing plan is being developed, and local investors are critical to the project’s success, Craddock said.

Kimberly Christner of Cornerstone Hospitality offer her first impressions of South Boston traveling along Highway 58 and then crossing the bridge into downtown to see a totally different place.

Giving people a reason to come off 58 into the downtown will be a critical factor to the success of the hotel project, according to those attending the session.

Representing Destination Downtown South Boston, Tom Raab gave a synopsis of the economic restructuring report performed by Todd Barman with the National Main Street Center, and he spoke about the need for the downtown to establish an identity and to think outside the box.

The town manager then showed a presentation of from where the town had come showing photographs of downtown South Boston dating back to the 80s.

Jones encouraged the audience to think about the assets in South Boston and to consider forming an “Arts and Entertainment District.”

Arts assets in South Boston include The Prizery, murals on buildings, Cage sculptures, visual and performing arts, festivals and local architecture, she said.

At the end of the evening, those attending the visioning session Tuesday evening were asked “what do you think and what’s your vision?”

Comments were made about restoring the two-way traffic feel that the downtown will benefit from slower traffic flow that will result in a safer environment and encourage visitors to stop and shop.

Those opposed to restoring two-way traffic through downtown argued people will find it difficult to adjust to new traffic patterns and possible avoid downtown altogether.

Town Manager Ted Daniel closed the meeting asking the group to talk about where to go from here.

He explained the town is working on a new zoning ordinance and how important it is to have public input, while Moody reminded those attending of the opportunity to use Community Development Block Grant planning funds to develop a systematic downtown redevelopment plan outlining both short and long-term strategies.

The plan has to align itself with the financing strategies of the hotel property in order to be successful, Moody said.

Daniel emphasized now is the time to act.