Downtown Strategy

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Overhead view of downtown Blacksburg from Alumni Mall looking south

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Final Downtown Strategy Public Meeting

The fourth Downtown Strategy public meeting took place on Monday, June 18, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Blacksburg Community Center, 725 Patrick Henry Dr. This meeting marked the fourth and final presentation to the public and included the final elements of the plan. The focus of this presentation was on implementation steps for seven key strategies that emerged during the process in which consultants put forth analysis and strategies and refined the ideas based on feedback from the public. The full slide presentation given on June 18 can be viewed here

Following the presentation, public meeting attendees had an opportunity to speak with members of the consulting team and town staff at different stations in an open house format to understand, clarify, and provide feedback to the final components of the plan.   

The next step of the planning process will involve producing a strategy document that will encapsulate all of the planning completed to date, providing a clear set of publicly supported goals and objectives, and the strategies and steps needed to implement them. 

Seven Strategies for Downtown Blacksburg

The focus of the meeting was the seven strategies - and the sub-strategies to achieve them - that are necessary to meet the goals of the town. The underlying them was interconnectedness - that each strategy related to the other in meaningful ways. They are part of a web of interrelated elements that will enable Downtown Blacksburg to meet its full potential in meeting community goals and aspirations in the coming years. They are as follows:

  • Strategy 1 | Establish Development Opportunities: involves the identification of appropriate sites for new development and infill within the Downtown; creation of guidelines to align architectural quality with community character; and the evaluation of incentive use for important developments, which include non-student housing and office. Strategy 1 - Establish Development Opportunities
  • Strategy 2 | Address Housing Affordability: by providing greater density and housing units at price points that middle income earners can afford; exploring tools such as land trusts and housing trust funds; and providing a missing market segment of housing to non-students. Strategy 2 - Address Housing Affordability
  • Strategy 3 | Move People; Not Cars: through the development of a non-motorized transportation system that links to the north and south of Downtown; encouragement of greater transit use; and the development of a central parking structure to encourage Downtown visitors to “park once.” Strategy 3 - Move People; Not Cars
  • Strategy 4 | Enhance the Public Realm: by turning the College Avenue extension into a true central plaza for downtown; the creating of attractive interstitial and alley spaces; by funding better connections to, and programming in, city parks; and through implementation of streetscaping plans. Strategy 4 - Enhance the Public Realm
  • Strategy 5 | Foster Innovation and Economic Growth: by developing office space, coworking space, and incubators in a dense, mixed-use environment with easy access to other employers and university assets; and by developing housing, dining, and public space amenities that help employers attract and retain a talented workforce. Strategy 5 - Foster Innovation and Economic Growth
  • Strategy 6 | Celebrate Town Distinctiveness: by refining the approach to historic preservation the development of funding mechanisms and prioritization; by supporting small businesses, start ups, and crafters who provide unique experiences and products; and by fostering a creative community of artists and artisans, encouraging public art, gallery space and a true arts plan that aligns tourism, private artists, and university artists. Strategy 6 - Celebrate Town Distinctiveness
  • Strategy 7 | Six Districts, One Downtown: Formalize a district framework in order to address key issues and opportunities in the places where it is most appropriate to do so; create a branding strategy for the districts and support it with wayfinding, signage, and public improvements; create zoning overlays to match the district strategies. Strategy 7 - Six Districts, One Downtown
  • Central Downtown | Conceptual Design: Central Downtown - Conceptual Design

 

Third Downtown Strategy Public Meeting

The third Downtown Strategy public meeting took place on Monday, April 30, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Blacksburg Community Center, 725 Patrick Henry Dr. This meeting marked the conclusion of the Decide phase of the Strategy process, in which the consulting team shared public feedback on the previously presented district framework, discussed more detailed strategies that will allow the town to achieve the goals and objectives set out for Downtown, and presented a series of conceptual sketches for future development of the three core blocks of Central Downtown. The full slide presentation can be viewed here

Following the presentation, public meeting attendees had an opportunity to speak with members of the consulting team and town staff and to provide feedback on the Central Downtown concepts. There will be an opportunity for those who were not able to attend the meeting or who have further comments to view the conceptual drawings online and provide their thoughts – check back on this site for more information on that in the coming days. 

Based on feedback from the public, the Downtown Strategy Stakeholder Committee, Town Council, and the Planning Commission, a set of preferred concepts for Central Downtown will be drawn and presented at the next public meeting on June 18. The full slide presentation can be viewed here

 

Downtown Blacksburg Strategy – Accessibility and Vibrancy

Two major themes of the April 30 presentation were the opportunities for providing multi-modal access through Central Downtown and for developing public gathering spaces in the core blocks. The conceptual sketches included options for maintaining the existing mid-block alley between Main and Progress, which currently serves partially as a bike/pedestrian path and partially as access for parking and building service needs. While it could be possible to maintain the alley and improve its infrastructure (see figure 1 below), maintaining the alley could limit the full potential for redevelopment in the core blocks of Downtown. Further, there is much greater potential to create bike/pedestrian infrastructure along Progress Street (see figure 2 and 3 below). The use of Progress would allow for greater connectivity between Downtown and northern parts of Town, building a more holistic non-automobile transportation system. However, it would require a more extensive infrastructure investment than improvements to the mid-block alley.

Redevelopment of the mid-block alley
Figure 1: Redevelopment of the mid-block alley 

Redevelopment of Progress Street

Figure 2: Redevelopment of Progress Street – Concept 1

Redevelopment of Progress Street 

Figure 3: Redevelopment of Progress Street – Concept 2

 

There are different types of public gathering space that could serve Downtown, including the core blocks. Along Main Street, there are opportunities for a large scale public plaza, with green space, outdoor seating, and comfortable walking paths. Such a plaza would reinforce the core blocks as the front door to Downtown and to Virginia Tech’s campus, while also providing an attractive and inviting environment that would support the businesses along the corridor. There are also opportunities for creating smaller, more intimate spaces within the core blocks. These could happen between or behind buildings, and would be more modest in infrastructure and design. They might include non-permanent structures, such as kiosks or tents for pop-up retail shops, or space for food trucks and temporary vendors. As redevelopment occurs, opportunities to create these intimate spaces, when combined with a larger investment in highly-visible plaza spaces, can come together to create a vibrant, dynamic, unique place. 

Second Downtown Strategy Public Meeting

The second Downtown Strategy public meeting took place on Monday, March 19, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Blacksburg Community Center, 725 Patrick Henry Dr. This meeting marked the conclusion of the Strategize phase of the Strategy process, in which the consulting team shared a set of goals, objectives, and strategies that would help the town meet its needs and desires for the future of Downtown.

Following the presentation on the Downtown districts, public meeting attendees had an opportunity to speak with members of the consulting team and town staff and to provide feedback on each district’s development concept through a paper survey. 

The goals and objectives for Downtown are an expression of what the town wants for Downtown and the efforts that can be undertaken to get there. The goals for the Downtown Strategy are:

Goal 1 – Provide housing appropriate for a wide spectrum of residents

Goal 2 – Honor Downtown’s natural resources and historic assets

Goal 3 – Position Downtown to welcome and adapt to economic growth opportunities

Goal 4 – Create a vibrant, livable Downtown neighborhood

For each goal, a set of 4-7 objectives were identified that, if pursued, would help the town achieve the goal. The full list of goals and objectives can be viewed below:

 Goals and Objectives 

The next step after identifying goals and objectives is finding the actionable strategies for pursuing the objectives. These strategies involve finding the most appropriate and successful locations for different types of development in Downtown. This was accomplished by splitting Downtown into five distinct districts, each with its own mix of development concepts. The district map is shown below, followed by a brief description of each district:

District Map 

Original 16 Blocks

The Original 16 Blocks, bounded by Draper Road, Clay Street, Wharton Street, and Jackson Street, is already a known district in town, comprising the original Town of Blacksburg. While many of the buildings in this district are historic and designated as contributing structures, their level of maintenance varies widely. Additionally, the street and sidewalk conditions in this district are fair to poor. The development concept for this district emphasizes rehabilitation of historic structures where possible, reinvestment in the public realm, and targeted new, denser residential development in key locations, particularly adjacent to the Old Blacksburg Middle School Site and along Main Street.

 Original 16 - Existing Conditions

Downtown West

Downtown West is roughly bounded by Main Street, Miller Street, Kent Street, and Virginia Tech’s campus. This district, which overlaps with the Original 16, is adjacent to VT’s planned Creativity and Innovation District. There are many opportunities for revitalizing historic homes in the area to house expanded uses such as office space, restaurants, and bed and breakfasts, as well as to develop new office space closer to the campus and Main Street, and new multifamily housing for professionals closer to the Miller Southside neighborhood.

 Downtown West - Existing Conditions

 Downtown West - Concepts

 

Downtown Northwest

Bounded by Turner Street, Main Street, and Prices Fork, the triangle-shaped Downtown Northwest district currently has a mix of auto-oriented commercial uses, University parking and office space, and retail establishments in the North End Center. Given its adjacency to VT and the high land values commanded by current uses, this district offers an excellent opportunity for meeting the demand for high-end off-campus student housing in Downtown, as well as for the development of anchor retailers such as a grocery store or movie theater. At the same time, there is an opportunity to elevate the visibility and accessibility of St. Luke and Odd Fellows Hall through the development of improved public space.

Downtown Northwest - Existing Conditions 

Downtown Northwest - Concepts

Downtown Northeast

Although Downtown Northeast is bounded by Main Street, Turner Street, and McConkey Street, the greatest opportunities here are presented along Main and Progress streets. The current commercial uses along North Main are auto-oriented, and range in quality of building condition and use. Some of the more underdeveloped sites could be redeveloped with apartment buildings that include ground-floor retail space. Additional opportunities for new development may be found on the western edge of Progress Street. This district offers a second great location, in addition to Downtown West, for developing denser housing that is appropriate for and affordable to young and mid-career professionals working in Downtown.

 Downtown Northeast - Concepts

 

Central Downtown

The true heart of Downtown, the Central Downtown district is bounded by Main Street, Turner Street, Progress Street, and Jackson Street, and also includes Wong Park to the east. As the most heavily-trafficked area of Downtown, this district presents many opportunities for meeting the goals for Downtown. These include mixed-use apartment development for professionals on catalyst sites, such as the Baptist Church site; improved parking capacity through the development of a garage on the current Progress Street lot; a reimagining of the current retail spaces on Main to improve the front door of the town that faces Virginia Tech; and an upgrade of public spaces to make them more accessible, connected, and vibrant.

 

Central Downtown - Concepts

The concepts for each district are directly related to the goals and objectives for Downtown. While no single district can fulfill all the objectives, collectively they provide strategies for undertaking each one, as shown below:

Goals and Objectives with Districts 

Following the presentation on the Downtown districts, public meeting attendees had an opportunity to speak with members of the consulting team and town staff and to provide feedback on each district’s development concept through a paper survey. The same survey, accompanied by video clips from the evening’s presentation, is now available to all town residents through April 8. You can access the survey here at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/downtownbbdistricts.

You can watch the full video of the public meeting presentation below:

 

 

First Downtown Strategy Public Meeting

The first Downtown Strategy public meeting was on Monday, Dec. 4, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Blacksburg Community Center, 725 Patrick Henry Dr. There was a presentation on the strategy process, the factors currently impacting Downtown, and a framework for thinking about Downtown’s future opportunities and challenges. Attendees provided input through a variety of hands-on activities, as well as speak with members of the consulting team and town staff. Watch the video below of the first public meeting presentation with narrative.

 

Links

Downtown Strategy Survey - www.surveymonkey.com/r/downtownbbsurvey
Architectural Preference Survey - www.surveymonkey.com/r/archpreference
Downtown Strategy Public Meeting Presentation - Blacksburg Public Meeting Master (23mb PDF)
 
 

What is the Downtown Strategy?

Strategic planning is a process that many types of entities undertake – not just communities, but also institutions, businesses large and small, foundations, and non-profits. In short, any group that is looking ahead to its future and where it will be in the next decade should be thinking about strategic planning. Why is strategic planning so important for all of these different types of entities? Because no entity exists in a vacuum – it is continually impacted by changes in the world around it. 

 Venn diagram showing how the planning process works

A strategic plan helps a community have greater control over its own destiny. The Downtown Strategy is a planning process intended to help the Blacksburg community formulate a set of strategies that will guide the development of Downtown over the next decade. It will allow the community to take a proactive role in deciding how Downtown can accommodate expected growth, serve the needs of residents and workers, and reflect the values and character of the town. 

Your active participation is crucial to the success of this process. Please take a moment to explore the strategy webpage, where you will learn about upcoming and recent strategy meetings and find links to strategy materials and surveys.  

Thank you in advance for your participation, your feedback, and your partnership in crafting a strategy that will move Downtown Blacksburg forward into the next decade and beyond.

 

The Strategy Process

The Downtown Strategy consists of four steps – Understand, Strategize, Decide, and Frameworks. In each of the first three steps, the community will be asked to provide feedback on strategy alternatives for Downtown. The feedback at each step will inform refinements to those alternatives, which will then be presented in the subsequent step. The final step will culminate in the production of a Downtown Strategy document. Watch this page for information on upcoming public meetings and other opportunities to provide input.

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