North Main Street and the corridor from the North Carolina line to West Main Street and Schoolfield could both use a facelift, according to city officials.
“There’s a high potential for there to be success in the redevelopment of that area,” City Manager Ken Larking said of the North Main hill area just off River Street.
A study of nine corridors throughout Danville focused on areas that have been neglected and could be developed to attract more visitors from out of town and better serve residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Taylor Shelton, a Longwood University student who interned with the city of Danville last summer, performed the study for the city’s economic development office during a two- or three-month period.
Danville Economic Development Director Corrie T. Bobe presented the results to Danville City Council during council’s work session Feb. 1.
Shelton’s work looked at characteristics in each area including property occupancy and vacancy rates, property/building conditions and use, and levels of pedestrian use and automobile use.
Though all nine corridors had vacancy rates ranging from 30% to 40%, the area most in need of improvement is the route from the North Carolina border, up West Main Street and into Schoolfield, said City Councilman Lee Vogler.
The corridor has a 34% vacancy rate, with 69% of parcels in poor condition and another 29% in fair condition, according to the study.
“The West Main and 29 corridor from North Carolina to Schoolfield has been an area of need for a number of years,” said Vogler, who had suggested a need to identify areas of improvement during a day-long City Council session in February 2021. “With Caesars coming [to Schoolfield], that need is even greater.”
Caesars Virginia is bringing a $500 million casino resort to the former Dan River Inc. site in Schoolfield. The project is under construction and is expected to be complete next year.
Officials anticipate a surge of interest in the Schoolfield area from developers and others who wish to open small businesses in that section of the city.
“You’ve got a number of properties that are beyond repair that need to be demolished” to make room for developers to come and rebuild those parcels from scratch, Vogler said.
That part of the city gives visitors coming up U.S. 29 from North Carolina their first impression of Danville, he pointed out.
City officials, following rapid growth in the River District from the city’s revitalization efforts and public and private investment in that part of Danville, hope to apply that approach to other areas of the city.
“We are very proud of the success downtown,” Vogler said. “We want to grow that success out to every corner of the city.”
The Schoolfield village in southwest Danville was founded as an independent company town in 1903 by Dan River Inc., which produced cloth for home and apparel from 1882 to 2006.
The structures built in Schoolfield included homes, stores and industrial properties.
Schoolfield is significant as one of the largest textile mill villages in Virginia and the South. Dan River Inc. owned all the houses and other buildings in the town. The city of Danville annexed Schoolfield in 1951.
A surge in interest in homes from buyers in that neighborhood triggered a rise in selling prices for residential properties there last summer.
A study on the traffic impacts from a Ceasars Virginia casino resort completed in February 2021 found that the existing transportation network in the Schoolfield area can handle a casino at the former Dan River Inc. there, but roundabouts and other improvements could be made at intersections to deal with increased traffic.
It recommended directional signing and turn lane improvements at intersections in the area.
The study focused on the intersections at Memorial Drive and West Main Street, as well Memorial Drive’s intersections at Bishop Road, Piedmont Drive and Park Avenue. It also looked at West Main Street’s intersections at Bishop Road, Wood Avenue and Park Avenue.
The traffic impact assessment’s purpose was to understand changes in traffic flows that could result from redevelopment at Schoolfield and help the city plan for possible transportation projects.
A casino at Schoolfield is expected to bring 1,651 “new external trips” to the site during peak afternoon and evening hours when the casino resort is full or during events, according to the report.
The report also recommends improving bicycle and pedestrian access consistent with the Danville Comprehensive Plan, including widening sidewalks, adding bicycle facilities, and installing crosswalks and pedestrian push buttons.
The firm EPR used projected casino attendance figures to determine what changes to the roads, if any, would be necessary. The report went by figures that estimate about 60% of casino traffic would come from Greensboro and the Raleigh/Durham area in North Carolina, and about 30% would come from other parts of Virginia including Roanoke, Lynchburg and Petersburg. Local traffic from within Danville would make up about 10%.
As for North Main hill, Larking said he would like to see a variety of uses for properties in the neighborhood, which already includes Moon River Thai restaurant, The Lazy Bee Chicken ‘n’ Waffles Bar & Grill and The Historic North Theatre.
“It will probably be mixed-use development, commercial, residential, office space,” Larking said. “Entertainment is already there.”
However, a lot of the units in that corridor are in poor condition, Larking said.
According to the study, the corridor from North Main at River Street to the North Theatre has a 61% occupancy rate and a 36% vacancy rate. About three quarters of parcels in the area — 77% — are in poor condition, the highest figure among the nine corridors.
The second-highest percentage of properties in poor condition was found along the corridor from Hamlin Avenue to Bubba’s — at 74%, according to the study.
The most highly pedestrian area of the city was the area from the beginning of West Main Street in south Danville to the Ballou Park area, with 28% found to be “highly pedestrian” and 24% deemed “pedestrian,” according to the study.
The area from the North Carolina border at 86/South Main Street to Sovah Health-Danville was the least pedestrian-oriented corridor, with just 12% considered “highly pedestrian” and a mere 6% “pedestrian,” according to the study.