The company responsible for developing a vision for the development of the Schoolfield area – the future site of the Danville casino – expects to complete the plan for the district early next year.
After organizing an event on October 29 to allow residents to see and comment on the elements that will be included in the plan, the firm in charge of the project will finalize it in February.
“We are working to deliver the plan to the Office of Economic Development and Tourism in February 2023, and it will likely be unveiled after that,” said Jared McKnight, senior partner and designer at WRT, an urban planning, design and development firm. architecture in Philadelphia.
Ideas presented to the public at the October 29 Schoolfield Fest event came from previous community engagement events WRT held in Danville in October 2021 and May, said WRT planner Amie Patel.
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Other pop-up events took place between the three major gatherings.
More than 400 community members attended the event last month, McKnight said.
“Schoolfield Fest was the culmination of the community engagement process that helped define the elements that will influence the plan,” McKnight said.
The district plan was designed to “leverage catalytic development at the Dan River Mills site, and aims to improve community health and well-being, increase resilience, spur new investment and development economy, to preserve heritage and history, and to sew together the threads of Schoolfield and Danville for the local community, as well as its future residents and visitors,” said McKnight.
The plan’s concepts include converting areas in the area to public amenities and improving roads to accommodate pedestrian and bicycle traffic, as well as vehicles.
“The plan will lay out a series of strategies and steps toward implementing these visions as a resource and tool for the city and its stakeholders moving forward,” McKnight said.
Residents provided feedback on these preliminary ideas to help guide WRT in formulating its final recommendations.
“The purpose of the master plan is to provide a high-level strategy related to the highest and best use of spaces throughout the district and also showcase best practices when implementing the final recommendations,” said said Corrie Bobe, director of economic development and tourism for Danville.
The Schoolfield District Plan document will consist of three main components: a Corridor Plan, a Master Plan and a Neighborhood Plan.
The Corridor Plan focuses on the Main Street Corridor and adjacent North Carolina Line properties where US 29 and West Main Street meet in the downtown River District.
“This element will provide strategies to strengthen the connection between the Schoolfield district and its surroundings, establishing new gateways to welcome visitors and residents to the town,” McKnight said.
Through a year-long community engagement process, residents chose the sites highlighted in the master plan. They include the interchange near the North Carolina line, the Main Street Green Zone across from the Caesars Virginia Casino site, the Baltimore Avenue cluster at Main Street and Baltimore Avenue, the Ballou Park Mall, and the Filtration Plant and Schoolfield Woods on Memorial Drive, McKnight said.
The Neighborhood Plan focuses on the historic Mill Village to improve the health and well-being of residents, repair and revitalize residential and commercial assets, and provide better access to amenities.
The four main themes of the district plan include:
- Community, character and identity: to preserve and celebrate the history and heritage of Schoolfield and create welcoming gateways in the community;
- Housing and economic development: address displacement and identify equitable and inclusive revitalization and development opportunities that meet the needs of current and future residents;
- Ecology and open space: enhance existing open and natural spaces and find opportunities to create new family spaces for recreation, habitat and respite; and
- Mobility, connectivity and infrastructure: to showcase Main Street as the city’s backbone and create seamless multimodal connections between the North Carolina Line and the River District.
“Each of these themes will have a number of strategies and how that relates to the overall vision of the plan,” Patel said.
WRT developed these strategies in response to community feedback at community engagement events in October 2021 and May, Patel said.
Some key strategies include:
- Strengthen and create new village nodes and community destinations;
- Provide housing options that meet the needs of current and future residents;
- Increase vegetation and planting along West Main Street; and
- Create a new set of corridor design standards for the Main Street West Corridor, including a series of green infrastructure improvements.
“All of these strategies have been developed in response to key issues and opportunities at Schoolfield that we have heard from the community and stakeholders throughout the process, and specifically during the October 2021 engagement events and of May 2022,” Patel said. “The items presented on October 29 were ideas that also came out of those two engagement events.”
Concepts for the May School Week event were refined and tweaked over the summer and presented to the community on Oct. 29, Patel said.
“These concepts included many of the main themes we heard: providing a range of housing options, senior housing, public spaces, community walkways, public spaces for passive and active purposes, commercial and retail and much more,” Patel said.
At the Oct. 29 event, officials also revealed new branding for the Schoolfield district, Bobe said. It will be incorporated into banners, artwork and more in the near future, she said.
Work began before the casino
WRT began working on developing a plan for the former Dan River Inc. site — where Caesars Virginia is building its casino — more than two years ago.
But that was before Danville voters approved the town’s casino in November 2020.
Before a casino was proposed at Schoolfield, WRT was conducting a Schoolfield masterplan to eventually turn the former industrial site into a mixed-use campus.
But the proposed casino and voter endorsement of the idea in November 2020 changed that, prompting the company and city officials to shift focus outside Schoolfield’s 85-acre site footprint. .
Thus, the three elements were included in a larger undertaking known as the Schoolfield District Plan.
Some of the dozens of amenity ideas — resulting from a mix of resident input and WRT analysis — include a shuttle between the North Carolina line and the River District, a Main Street plaza, a gallery of street art and/or outdoor art, a cultural park, a multi-modal boulevard with car, transit, pedestrian, and bicycle access, and a boutique hotel and museum showcasing Schoolfield
Other amenities offered by community members include a Schoolfield nature park and education center, community gardens, greenways connecting parks and neighborhoods, neighborhood gathering areas including retail stores, outdoor cafes, community housing, mall redevelopment and other features.
At the May 2022 event, residents were asked to leave additional ideas on red sticky notes. They included day care centres, a homeless shelter, children’s play areas, a senior center and grocery stores.
Schoolfield is considered a State and Federally Recognized Historic District.
The designation highlights the important role the neighborhood has played in the community and opens up opportunities for developers to access historic tax credits to pursue redevelopment projects.
The village of Schoolfield was founded as an independent company town in 1903 by Dan River Inc., which produced home fabric and clothing from 1882 to 2006.
Structures built in Schoolfield included houses, shops and industrial properties.
Caesars Virginia Casino being built on the former Dan River Inc. site in Schoolfield along West Main Street is scheduled for completion in late 2024. A temporary casino for residents and visitors until the permanent to be built is expected to open mid-2023.