Two decades of citizen-led efforts have paid off for the “Center of the Universe.”
In a statement released June 7, Gov. Bob McDonnell announced both Ashland and the City of Fredericksburg had been designated official Virginia Main Street Communities, bringing to 26 the number of designations statewide.
A program of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Virginia Main Street helps communities develop strategies that create economic growth and pride in their downtown areas.
“What it means for Ashland is a host of economic and cultural benefits,” said Tom Wulf, executive director of the Ashland Main Street Association. “Virginia Main Street towns…tend to be a regional draw, so they’re going to bring in, hopefully, a great deal of tourism activity, which of course generates revenue for the town, the county and the greater Richmond region.”
The designation also makes it easier for Ashland to secure grants from state and federal agencies or corporate foundations, Wulf said.
The process of becoming a certified Main Street community isn’t easy, though. For starters, Ashland’s application was 177 pages long. The process is also competitive.
Ashland was at an advantage, Wulf said, because of the strength of the local Main Street board as well as current works in progress, such as the downtown streetscaping project and recently designated arts and cultural district. McDonnell’s statement specifically pointed to Ashland’s efforts “strengthening ties with its local college and building on the local quality of life of a historic railroad town.”
“When you put all of that together, it’s like, ‘Wow! We really are ready to be a part of Virginia Main Street,” Wulf said, adding community support was also key in achieving the designation.
The Ashland Main Street Association is currently made up of Wulf and a 15-member board. Creating the executive director position was part and parcel of applying for the designation. It was a logical move for Wulf, who at the time, was serving as board president.
“I’m not doing anything different than when I was board president, except that I can’t vote at meetings,” Wulf said.
While he’s currently at the helm, Wulf stressed the contributions of those board members that came before him, helping to pave the way toward a revitalized Ashland.
“We’re just standing on the foundation of an organization that other people built,” he said. “There are so many people who are luminaries in the community now who have been involved in the Main Street effort and I cannot underplay their efforts in making this happen today.”
Reached Monday, Mayor Faye Prichard said she was “thrilled” by the news, but was quick not to take credit for it. While the town government has supported Main Street, both philosophically and with some financial backing, Prichard credited the program’s success to citizen-led efforts.
The Main Street program, she added, is a good case where a need was identified and citizens stepped up to complete a goal. Town council only helped foster “what the citizens wanted,” she said.
Going forward, Wulf said Main Street intends to focus on marketing the town, efforts that will likely include a new, comprehensive Ashland-Hanover brochure. They’ll also continue to publish “Get Centered,” an online newsletter which focuses on events happening in downtown Ashland.
“Really, we can celebrate the designation. But the hard work is in front of us, not behind us,” Wulf said.