By Susan Pietras-Smith, Correspondent
After a Community Block Development Grant committee turned down the town of Colonial Beach for a Business Revitalization Grant (BDRG) earlier this year, the Colonial Beach revitalization committee, business and property owners convened for a special meeting where Carol Rizzio, from Land Studio PC, presented information on how the town can reapply.
The BDRD is awarded to communities for critical needs such as economic development, housing needs, and infrastructure. Colonial Beach’s need for economic development is being used as the basis for the grant application.
Key areas that need improvement, and that are being presented to the CBDG committee are: physical blight, lack of a cohesive district, strategy, and leadership, and seasonality and leakage. The set district boundaries include Colonial Ave., Washington Ave., Boundary St. and the Potomac River; an area that comprises what is considered the downtown district of Colonial Beach.
The area suffers from physical blight, which is defined as the breakdown of infrastructure, vacant buildings or lots, cracked sidewalks, and landscaping in disrepair, especially surrounding the boardwalk. Seasonality is something that any tourism-based town has to deal with, as the majority of tourism is focused on the summer season. Leakage occurs when citizens spend a large percentage of money elsewhere. While some leakage is expected in any small town, local CB businesses lose significant money to surrounding areas.
The strengths of CB discussed at the meeting include existing businesses, fraternal organizations and civic groups. The various business incentives in place in the technology, tourism, arts and culture districts help in the grant application process. CB also possesses a large number of community organizations such as the Colonial Beach Foundation, Artists Guild, and the Historical Society that show the committee that town citizens are working to better the town right now.
One of the goals of the revitalization plan and grant application is to grow the tourism trade by 5 percent per year. The town plans to direct tourism efforts at groups including boaters, bicyclists, birders, history buffs, art and food tourists as the town has infrastructure in place for these types of visitors.
Jerry W Davis, AICP, of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission presented what the town of Montross did to succeed in their grant application. With their second application, Montross was granted $530,000 toward revitalizing their downtown and rebuilding their economy.
One of Montross’ keys to success was using the Main Street Model, which is part of Virginia Housing and Community Development. The program is based on community and economic development of small to mid-size towns and uses an approach designed by the National Trust Main Street Center to help communities bring back their downtown areas and economies. Brad Below gave a quick overview of the Virginia Main Street program. There are 25 Main Street Communities in Virginia, 2,200 communities nationwide. The national Main Street program has given grants of 51 billion dollars with 436,909 new jobs created and 99,508 new businesses.
Montross also focused on the town’s financial needs, not just the physical needs. The grant that CB is applying for is meant to address financial needs of the area, especially on helping low income citizens.
One of the key items of Montross’ program is a revolving loan program. This gives businesses a loan that amounts to 50 percent of the needed amount to work on facade improvement of their businesses. Each business is required to create a job for a low income person as part of the program. If they keep up the building, the loan will be forgiven 20 percent a year for five years, which ultimately makes it a grant to the business.
Davis also noted that Montross was a town of only 250 people, yet they had a large percentage of citizens involved in the planning process.