Grant to help businesses

Published 9:58 am Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The town of Drakes Branch held a public meeting Nov. 30 to discuss the future of business revitalization.

The town recently received a $3,000 pre-planning grant to determine its needs and the possibility of a future Business District Revitalization Project from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

“Last spring, several business and property owners contacted our office looking for funding for ways to improve either their business property or business here in the town of Drakes Branch,” said Melody Foster, of the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC).

Foster said these individuals were interested in improving the town as a whole, specifically the downtown area. After the initial interest, several funding agents were invited to Drakes Branch, where a public meeting was conducted to discuss possibilities, she said. Then, after listening to several presentations, the town decided to seek out a pre-planning project grant from DHCD to assist with moving forward.

According to Foster, the town applied for the grant in May and received notification of the award in October.

The town must now complete several pre-planning activities before Jan. 11. According to an overview of the proposed project, these activities include holding an initial public meeting, holding the first management team meeting, conducting a physical inventory survey, completing a business assistance/providers inventory,

identifying a skilled facilitator and holding a second management team meeting. The CRC will assist Drakes Branch during the completion of these activities.

“Once that’s done, it will be submitted to (DHCD), and they will review that information. Then, they will determine whether you move to the next step,” Foster said.

She said the next step would include DHCD assigning a specialist to work with the town and holding a planning session with the management team.

The proposed project overview identified 23 current businesses and 13 vacant properties included in the initial planning grant.

Foster stressed that the aforementioned activities are strictly a part of the planning process, not construction activities.

In order to help with this project, a management team consisting of business property owners, town council members and citizens has been identified. In addition to Foster, management team members include Mayor Denise Pridgen, Council member Noah Davis, Town Clerk Mary Sands, Building Official John Hess, Zoning Administrator Eugene Wells; business property owners (or owner representatives) Sherry Tharpe, Rodney Moon, Karen Gregory-Williams, Carlton Winlock, Rick Griffith, Charles Smith; and town residents April Adams and Thelma Jones.

If the town chooses to pursue a Business District Revitalization Grant, at least $700,000 could be rewarded depending on the activities.

The management team briefly met following the public meeting to review the planning activities.