U.S. Sen. Mark Warner swung by Danville’s River District on Thursday morning, where he grabbed an iced mocha at Links Coffee House Café before touring parts of downtown in a trolley bus and on foot with local officials.
Warner, a Democrat up for re-election in 2020, chatted with Links customers before visiting the old Durham Hosiery Building (currently being converted into apartments and commercial space), Mucho Taqueria and Tequileria, Supply Resources Inc. and Ballad Brewing.
“It’s remarkable what’s happening in the River District,” Warner told reporters outside the Durham Hosiery Building on Lynn Street on a damp, cloudy morning. “We’ve seen a real renaissance in this city. It truly is one of the great success stories.”
His stop in Danville was part of a three-day tour across Southside Virginia that began Wednesday in Salem, Hardy and Martinsville, brought him to the city Thursday and later took him to Lynchburg.
Warner visited local businesses to discuss ways to maximize economic and revitalization opportunities in Danville. In 2018, the Danville River District was designated as an Opportunity Zone, a federal qualification officials believe could transform downtown Danville by encouraging private investment and economic development through tax breaks.
Warner stressed cutting back bureaucracy to make it easier to use historic tax credits to spur revitalization of old buildings and downtowns like Danville’s. That could help reverse the city’s population decrease by attracting young people, he said.
“You’ll see an increase in population with this kind of development,” he said, referring to the project at the Durham Hosiery Building.
Ross Fickenscher and Garrett Shifflett are building 46 apartment units and about 30,000 square feet of commercial space at 523 and 525 Lynn St.
The two men have partnered on other development projects in the River District: the Pemberton Lofts on Bridge Street, the Continental Lofts on Craghead Street and Ballad Brewing, also on Craghead Street.
They led Warner and city officials on a tour of the Lynn Street building, where construction was under way.
Next, Warner and officials walked to Mucho for a quick tour before heading to Supply Resources, Inc. Both businesses are owned by Rick Barker.
The tour ended at Ballad Brewing, where Warner posed for photos with staff and joked with local leaders.
Mayor Alonzo Jones told the Danville Register & Bee that tax credits and other revitalization tools — such as land banks — help a community like Danville progress.
“It takes all of those small things to help us sustain and move the community forward,” Jones said in an interview during Warner’s visit.
The senator’s statements about Danville’s revitalization and regional cooperation with Pittsylvania County illustrate that the city is on the right path, he added.
“It’s just confirmed [Danville] City Council’s three strategies,” Jones said, referring to the city’s priorities — growing Danville, improving education and reducing violent crime.
The city still has its challenges, but it’s moving in the right direction, especially with the city partnering with Pittsylvania County to attract economic development, Jones said.
Danville Assistant Economic Development Director Corrie Teague Bobe said, “We’re thrilled to showcase the River District to Sen. Warner.”
An important part of talking to Warner during his visit was to see how federal programs can be enhanced to help revitalize downtown, Bobe said.
During his interview with media outlets, Warner answered questions on state and national issues, as well.
On Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision not to step down after photos from his medical school yearbook page showed two people in racist outfits, Warner said, “He’ll have to earn back his ability to govern. Time will tell.”
When asked what he thought of the Democrats seeking the 2020 nomination, he said, “There’s a bunch of them.”
There are more than a dozen possible contenders.
Warner added that politics in Washington has become too extreme from the right to the left.
John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (434) 791-7987.