Before city voters approved the Caesars Virginia casino last November, a master plan was slated for the former Dan River Inc. site at Schoolfield to explore the possibility of a mixed-use campus there.
But with Caesars Virginia expected to build a $400 million casino resort at the site, the master plan has expanded from a $374,000 project to nearly $1 million worth of analysis to examine the casino’s traffic impact on the West Main Street corridor from the North Carolina line to the site, and from the Schoolfield site to the River District downtown.
WRT, an urban planning and design and architecture firm in Philadelphia, is conducting the master plan that also will include a housing analysis focusing on the Schoolfield area and looking at the entire city, as well.
“Housing is an issue in and of itself, but the casino could have an impact,” said Danville City Manager Ken Larking.
Of the master plan’s $973,500 cost, $360,000 will be covered by Caesars Virginia. The Danville Regional Foundation will provide $25,000, Larking said. In addition, Caesars Virginia will also pay for a portion of the traffic impact part of the master plan, but the amount has not been determined.
The Danville Industrial Development Authority, the city’s land-buying arm, will cover the remaining cost of the master plan. The IDA, which sold the Schoolfield property to Caesars Virginia for $5 million, gets its money from the city of Danville, grants and federal tax credits.
The master plan project was put on hold last summer pending the outcome of the vote on whether to allow the Caesars Virginia casino at the former Dan River Inc. site at Schoolfield on West Main Street.
“Having a significant $400 million project … drawing in many people to the area resulted in us taking a step back and looking at what the focus of the study needed to be because of these changes,” Larking said.
A master plan helps determine the best use for a property within a designated area and helps provide developmental guidelines for public- and private-sector projects.
The Schoolfield master plan will focus on “leveraging existing historic assets adjacent to the proposed casino development,” according to WRT’s rescoped plan.
The Schoolfield neighborhood plan part of the master plan will look at ways to use development to improve the health and well-being of residents, “repair and revitalize existing residential and commercial assets, and provide better access to amenities,” according to WRT.
As for the Main Street corridor part of the master plan, it will propose strategies to strengthen the link between the River District downtown and the Schoolfield district. It also includes establishing gateways to welcome visitors and residents into Danville, “reconsider existing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure,” implementing sign recommendations, determining “design character and corridor identity,” looking at economic development investment possibilities, and other items.
“It’s quite a large menu of items that will be tackled all at once by one group,” Larking said. “It needs to be done prior to the development of the casino resort.”
There will also be branding, communications and marketing guidelines for the Schoolfield district, Larking said. The area will have its own brand and identity just like the River District.
“It’s going to be important to make sure we are as prepared as possible when the development opens and we start bringing hundreds of thousands people to our community every year,” Larking said. “We have an opportunity to showcase Danville and we want to do that in the best way possible.”
The Caesars Virginia casino is expected to be complete in the second or third quarter of 2023, and open in the third or fourth quarter of that year.
The 85-acre Dan River Inc. property contains about 700,000 square feet of structure, including the 617,000-square-foot former finishing plant that can be seen from West Main Street. The building will be demolished for the casino project.
Previously, the master plan emphasized the commercial and industrial area of the site.
The Schoolfield village 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.
Since the casino referendum passed, Caesars is in charge of planning and designing its casino resort and will become a full partner in the master planning process, part of a steering committee to help guide the plan.
WRT’s work was originally supposed to be complete by early 2021, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the casino referendum pushed back the timeline.