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Montross readies for town revitalization

Posted on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Montross is another step closer to a revitalized downtown.

On Sept. 27, town and local government officials and vested parties met with officials from the Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development to review the final steps the town must take to kick off a blight battle in its historic downtown.

The town has qualified to receive approximately $530,000 of federal grant funding administered by the DHCD. Those monies will be paired with another $331,000 of private investment, aimed at reinvigorating Montross in both its appearance and economic output. If all goes to plan, the town will have funding in hand in time for Christmas.

“The reason our agency funds these types of downtown projects is to bring about downtown revitalization through the elimination of not only physical blight, which you all have identified, but removing barriers to economic revitalization,” said Denise Ambrose, associate director of the DHCD.

The revitalization project will address approximately 20 blighted properties in central Montross and Ambrose cautioned against letting any unsightly properties slip through the cracks.

“Once you receive the funding and identify the blight…you will need to make sure you deal with and abate all that blight,” Ambrose said. “I don’t think you’re going to have an issue with that…it’s just that we don’t want to walk away from a project with a big ‘White Elephant’ in the middle of it still untouched.”

Brenda Reamy, town manager, said she has been in contact with all participating property owners, who she said are anxious to begin work.

“We have property owners that already have their plans,” she said. “They’re just waiting for the money.”

A major component of downtown revitalization projects is business recruitment to fill the renovated commercial spaces. Kyle Meyer, community development specialist with DHCD, pointed to resources such as the Virginia Main Street.

“Community-led recruitment does work in downtown revitalization for business development,” Meyer said.

The town had already completed a survey asking town residents about the types of businesses they would like to see in their hometown.

Jerry Davis, director of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission, said that because of Route 3 and its tourism draw, Montross is poised to see more restaurants and retail.

“Just trying to recapture those dollars back to the region that we’re losing now,” Davis said.

Under the grant program, approximately seven existing businesses will receive “microenterprise assistance” under the program, which sets aside $140,000 for that purpose. Businesses receiving assistance are required to create at least six full-time equivalent jobs, the majority of which have to go to persons of low or moderate income per federal guidelines for those monies.

Other improvements include upgrades to three pedestrian street crossings, installation of two gateway signs and way-finding signage, and streetscape improvements, including benches, trashcans and bike racks.

The grant will also help develop a town web site.

The town was given a 90-day window to complete the final steps necessary to finalize its contract with DHCD. Once the monies are awarded, they will be spread out over a 24-month period. Reamy noted that much of the planning and design work can be completed over the winter months with onsite work beginning in the spring of 2013.

Brenda Reamy, town manager, “We really appreciate your involvement in the process all along, you’ve been really supportive,” Davis said.

“You don’t want to lose steam and it doesn’t look like you have,” Ambrose said.