Drakes’ quest for revitalization continues

Published 8:35 am Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Town of Drakes Branch submitted an application for a Pre-Project Planning Grant on May 20 potentially worth $10,000-15,000 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), according to Commonwealth Regional Council Planner Melody Foster.

Foster said the Commonwealth Regional Council assisted the town in applying; she said she worked closely with Drakes Branch Clerk Mary Sands throughout the process.

“Based on discussions with (the) DHCD, this grant would be a good starting point for the Town of Drakes Branch to assist them and the business community in assessing where they are and what steps are needed to move forward,” said Foster.

The action was spurred by the May 27 Town of Drakes Branch meeting and business owners, town councilmen and representatives from various state departments, including the DHCD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The application for the grant, officially called the Drakes Branch Downtown Revitalization Pre-Project Planning Grant, was expected to be reviewed last week, according to Foster.

“I do not know when the town will receive word on whether the planning grant is funded, however, I believe the town should be hearing something soon,” she said.

According to the DHCD website, funds from planning grants can be used to target a variety of areas, including business district revitalization.

Foster then added that the grants can be used to fulfill single objectives or “to prioritize community or economic conditions for future direction.”

Drakes Branch Mayor Denise Pridgen said the town plans to put the money towards renewing the business storefronts to “give the town a new look,” encouraging new businesses to begin by improving the current ones, like the new Dollar General set to open on June 28.

After what she considered an “impressive” turnout for the April 27 meeting, Pridgen believed the town had a good chance to receive the grant.

According to Pridgen, there had been a previous attempt to apply for state grants like this, but not enough business owners wanted to contribute some of their money to the revitalization cause.

“It’s a 50/50 kind of thing, they have to put some of their money in it and they didn’t want to do it. The grant pays for part of it and the owner pays for part,” said Pridgens.

At the town council’s meeting on Monday, June 6, Sands said she had collected seven “support letters” from town business owners to submit, saying they will follow through with the improvements if the DHCD grant money is given.

Now, Pridgen thinks there’s enough interest amongst the business owners to turn the project into a reality.

“I think the DHCD were very impressed with all the people being there,” she said.

“I just hope the town can move forward and get this grant and continue to grow.”