Downtown draw: Plans for riverfront park bring excitement to leaders, River District businesses

Dell’Anno’s Pizza Kitchen on Main Street downtown has seen more customers during its lunch rush since Spectrum Medical opened in the River District Tower last week. A new riverfront could bring even more business if it’s built at Main Street and Memorial Drive, said the restaurant’s manager.

“It will be more people coming with kids,” said Dell’Anno’s manager Fabian Martinez. “After they play, they will get hungry.”

In the two weeks since Spectrum relocated to the River District Tower with its more than 85 employees, Dell’Anno’s has seen a 15-20 percent increase in customer volume during lunch, Martinez said.

Regional leaders and at least one business owner also see great potential for a riverfront park.

Sarah Rodden, owner at Lizzy Lou Boutique at Main Street and Memorial Drive, said it would bring more people downtown.

“A lot of people would come to the park who haven’t been here in a long time,” Rodden said. “The more things that are popping up downtown, the more interested people become [in the River District].”

Spectrum employees have brought more business at Lizzy Lou since the facility opened on Feb. 27, Rodden said.

DHM Design, Inc. presented a conceptual plan for the park to Danville City Council during a special work session Tuesday night. The project would cost about $3.8 million, according to the plan’s estimate.

The plans include “a very engaging public space that includes a splash pad/waterplay area. From there, a cascading water wall leads to steps and lawn terraces that face the Dan River and partially encircle the much larger community lawn area. The oval lawn is large enough to throw a Frisbee, hold a community concert, host the Flag Day event, and stage Food Truck Rodeos,” according to the concept.

The plans also call for highlighting the architecture of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge. Possible lighting of the bridge could extend the park’s effect across the Dan River to attract visitors to the space, according to the plan.

A trail extension cutting across the park’s northern boundary would connect at the parking area and trailhead at Main Street Plaza, according to the plan.

“This trail extension is designed extra wide and of a more unique pavement material in order to act as a promenade that allows casual visitors to overlook the water surface and its activities,” according to the plan.

A promenade — on the side that would face the river — would fall away into a series of concrete steps allowing users to sit close and touch the water, according to plans. The idea is to “pull the river back into the landscape,” according to a designer.

A proposed multi-age play place, a kayak/canoe put-in and a small parking area would be at the western end of the park.

In a separate conceptual design study, Lyons, Colorado-based S20 Design and Engineering proposed three possible types for a whitewater park at the site.

Those include:

» A river-wide drop structure crossing the entire river and providing three separate chutes forming waves;

» A bypass channel along the west bank of the river and separated from the main flow by a berm. The channel would extend from the historic dam downstream most of the want to the Main Street bridge;

» An out-of-the-river canal extending from a canal to the proposed riverfront park, discharging back into the river just upstream of the Main Street bridge.

“The [riverfront] park and park concept can be a major boost to our River District economy, especially if we can develop some type of whitewater activity, with rafting, tubing or canoeing,” said Danville Mayor John Gilstrap.

The spray pool and lawn-area barriers to keep one group of people from dominating the area are especially appealing, Gilstrap said.

However, parking is a concern since the concept offers only a little more than 10 new parking spaces, he said. An area with a capacity of 500 people — the park’s capacity — would need about 150 parking spaces, he said. But there is parking close by — within two blocks, Gilstrap added.

He supports removal of the nearby Long Mill Dam, which would yield the most advantages and the fewest drawbacks, he said.

Parks and Recreation Director Bill Sgrinia said of the plan, “I like the concept of the park overall. It’s well thought out and does take into consideration the public input that was part of the process.”

The promenade that widens part of the riverwalk trail will help engage people with the Dan River, Sgrinia said.

“I was hoping people would be able to interact with the river,” he said.

Sgrinia also likes the way the shelter is angled to take in the backdrop of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge.

The park is designed to invite people into the space, he added.

Laurie Moran, president of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, said the creation of spaces that attract families will enable the region to “make a significant impact on the quality of life and economy of our region.”

“The proposed riverfront park has the potential to connect business recruitment, retention and tourism,” Moran added. “As we seek to attract employers to this community and as employers seek to attract employees to this region, it is important that we are showcasing our community as a great place to live and work. From the tourism perspective, people who are visiting our area are looking for spaces where they can relax, enjoy and experience the great assets we have to offer. The riverfront park has this possibility.”

Karl Stauber, president and CEO of the Danville Regional Foundation, sees the park as one of the next major steps in the River District as an economic development and tourism draw. However, it’s “also … a way of demonstrating to people here and people elsewhere what excellence looks like and the fact that we can create excellence.”

The new Danville Family YMCA is an example of that excellence, Stauber said.

“The community could have built a much cheaper Y … and it wouldn’t have been nearly the success it’s been,” he said.

Stauber said he is astounded at the number of people visiting the nearby JTI Fountain.

A new riverfront park will be another magnet for the revitalization of the region and another quality-of-life indicator for people, he added. They will think “this is the place where I want to be,” Stauber said.

“Great communities have great parks,” he said.
John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at or (434) 791-7987.

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