Ashland Main Street program assessed

After Ashland was named a Virginia Main Street Community last year, it’s time for the town to get to work.

“There’s a lot of low hanging fruit for [Ashland Main Street Association] to go after,” said Tom Wulf, director of the association.

One big thing Wulf said the group wants to start with is the “way-finding” signage drivers see when they get off Interstate 95.

Wulf said improvements would help funnel visitors to the downtown area. Currently there aren’t any signs that do that.

He added that Ashland and its downtown district have a lot to offer visitors such as the train, history and cultural arts community.

“We’ve got to find more reasons for people to stay in Ashland,” Wulf said.

Another project they will tackle is marketing. The state allocated a $5,000 grant to the association for marketing purposes. Wulf said they will use some of those funds to create an Ashland-specific brochure and to brand the organization.

A big goal is “improving [their] reach” and distribution, he said.

They will also be updating their website to include better information, resources and an interactive downtown map.

Lastly they will work on improving their identity.

“The ‘Center of the Universe’ is a good moniker, but it doesn’t tell that much about us,” Wulf said.

Although the association has a long list of “to-do’s,” they will also receive a long in-depth report from national and state level Main Street leaders who visited the “Center of the Universe” last week. Many had one main goal in mind: to strengthen the town’s association and in return improve the downtown area.

“We want to see a more vibrant downtown,” said Brad Belo, community revitalization specialist with the Virginia Main Street Association.

Belo said the state level would also like to help the town’s association create more jobs, welcome appropriate businesses and secure private funding for revitalizing the area.

“[We want to] get private folks to get excited about improving downtown with their money,” Belo said.

At this point national and state leaders from the organization are giving resources to Ashland association members to help them build onto what they’ve already created.

Belo said a main goal for newly designated towns is to “have and maintain an active association.”

The town is one of 26 communities across the state and as a Main Street community, Ashland leaders must send monthly reports on the town’s progress as a part of their “long term strategic vision.” Part of the report includes the number of new jobs that were created as well as new businesses established in the downtown sector.

Belo said he wants Ashland to be the place to go to eat and attend festivals.

After Teresa Lynch, former senior main street program officer at the national level, visited Ashland for the first time she said the town’s program is off to a good start. She complimented the association on its Internet presence, the town’s partnership with Randolph-Macon College and its strong volunteer base.

“I see good things happening with this program,” Lynch said.

But she said there are some things they will need work on. Lynch said the program will need to explain to the community what the program is all about and what it will do differently now that Ashland is officially a Main Street town.

“People think the designation is the seal of approval from the state, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s a whole new way of life.”

She said a big part of the process will involve the association listening to the downtown business owners and what they need.

But through the services and resources the program will receive from Virginia Main Street, Ashland will have better accessibility to accomplish their tasks.

Now that the meetings with the national and state leaders are behind them, Wulf emphasized the need to hit the ground running.

Wulf said that the town is already doing great things like the streetscape project and the Ashland theater project.

“We don’t want to lose any momentum,” he said.

 

Posted on Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 11:13 am