Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance
2014 Great American Main Street Award Winner
• Founded: 2003
• Population: 48,914
• Net New Jobs: 1,200
• Net New Businesses: 64
• Building Rehabs: 167
• New Buildings: 6
• Housing Units Added: 355
• Vacancy Rate when program started: 10%
• Current Vacancy Rate: 3.5%
A 2014 Great American Main Street Award winner, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) has led a remarkable transformation of Harrisonburg, Virginia, using the Main Street Approach to reinvigorate its historic downtown. Thanks to HDR’s efforts over the past 10 years, Harrisonburg has become a cultural destination renowned for its farm-to-table cuisine and beautifully preserved buildings dating to the city’s past as an agricultural powerhouse and county seat. Once commercial buildings have been turned into housing for young professionals, while new tax incentives are luring tech startups downtown and creating jobs.
“Much of the impressive revitalization success is due to Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s vision, commitment, creativity, and strategic implementation of the Main Street Four-Point Approach®,” said HDR Executive Director Eddie Bumbaugh.
Since HDR was formed in 2004, 1,200 new jobs have been created, tax revenues have increased $2 million and real estate value has risen to more than half a billion dollars. Much of the economic growth can be credited to partnerships between the city and HDR’s economic development committee, which formed several programs to attract new businesses. Most importantly, the Downtown Technology Zone provides tax incentives for qualifying businesses to locate downtown. Residents also feel their money has been well spent. For the past four years in a row, HDR has been voted “Best Use of Taxpayer Money” by readers of the local Daily News-Record.
“Now local people are proud of our downtown as a great place to shop, dine, live, work and attend events,” Bumbaugh said.
Beyond its efforts to boost business and bring tech startups downtown, HDR has also worked to preserve and repurpose the historic buildings left over from Harrisonburg’s agricultural past. When HDR was launched in 2003, there were just 150 units of downtown housing, almost all affordable. Today, there are more than 500 units, many upscale or luxury apartments.
Getting listed in the National Register of Historic Places—and becoming eligible for historic tax credits—was a key step toward revitalizing downtown, according to Bumbaugh. Following that designation, two local developers used tax credits to turn a 1911 commercial building into a beautiful luxury apartment complex with 32 apartments and a popular farm-to-table restaurant. The apartment complex has been fully rented since day one, and other developers are following in their footsteps.
By bringing residents downtown, HDR’s goal was to build a base of customers for retail shops and restaurants, according to Bumbaugh—and they have succeeded. The restaurant scene is so vibrant, in fact, that the Harrisonburg City Council recently passed a resolution to create the state’s first Downtown Culinary District. There are more than 30 locally owned restaurants, and Harrisonburg also hosts several culinary events each year.
In the future, Bumbaugh says his group plans to attract more food-related businesses, strengthen existing retail businesses and recruit new ones. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, however.
“Our vision includes a new hotel and conference center, an urban park, a greenway through downtown, a new city hall, additional streetscape phases, renovation of Harrisonburg founder’s historic home, a new mixed-use parking deck, additional adaptive re-use projects ..., expansion of the children’s museum, and public art projects, collectively representing public and private investment of approximately $80 million.”