Saturday, October 25, 2014

Revitalization expedited

Downtown Bluffwalk project expected to be completed within 18 months

City officials proved their commitment to revitalizing downtown Lynchburg by passing a plan that will allow for the next step of development in completing the Lower Bluffwalk project.

City of stairs — Plans to build up the City of Lynchburg include new staircases. Photo from Lynchburg.gov

Lower Bluffwalk will be a “pedestrian street” composing the core of a new culture district with shops, art galleries and cafés. New developments will highlight the existing historic buildings.

Councilman Randy Nelson has been the leader in making plans for the Lower Bluffwalk which, originally, was not expected to be finished until near 2017. Now, the plan could be completed in the next 18 months after it passed with a 6-1 vote.

“When I looked at the project in late 2010, listened to the affected property owners, examined the very low bond rates and saw an almost dormant construction industry available at that time, it seemed reasonable to consider accelerating the project rather than continuing to segment it over the next five years,” Nelson said.

To take advantage of the low costs needed to take on a project of this magnitude, the city will borrow money from its own accounts that would have been used for building roads and highways. According to Nelson, those highways could not be built in the next five years due to certain stipulations, both legal and practical. With the change, the downtown area will receive the needed upgrades but at a cheaper rate, and will do so while investors are eager to jump on board.

“This is not an investment in a private business but construction of a capital public asset that will be a catalyst to private enterprise,” Nelson said.

The Bluffwalk, which currently is in the first phase of development at 11th Street, could also yield new growth for current local businesses as more residents and visitors populate the area.

“(The Bluffwalk) will increase pedestrian movement and increase visitation to the downtown area,” Todd Windell, hotel director at the Craddock Terry, said. “It’s going to be great exposure.”

The Bluffwalk project includes the riverfront areas through Commerce and Jefferson Streets. Upon its completion, the Bluffwalk will be used for residential condos, restaurants, merchandise shops and visitor attractions. Additionally, the $5 million project will serve as an avenue for new jobs.

“New jobs would be created as part of the private owner’s property renovation,” Nelson said. “New jobs would evolve as business activities occurred within the renovated properties, and the entire city would receive a boost from the tourists and visitors. This would occur by 2013, not 2017.”

Construction in the area could cause more temporary road closings, as blocks between Commerce and Jefferson are currently blocked, but within the next 18 months, the city could have the area transformed into a great asset.

“The Bluffwalk features will promote and enhance Lynchburg’s many existing historical, architectural, cultural, geographic and natural resources and increase all of Central Virginia as a destination site,” Nelson said.

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