Downtown revitalization moves forward

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli

Downtown Harrisonburg will see some new businesses and projects crop up this year as the city moves forward with revitalization plans.

Known as the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR), the project will celebrate its 10th anniversary in July.  In March, HDR received a Virginia Main Street Milestone Achievement Award from the commonwealth for the contribution of more than 80,000 volunteer hours dedicated to downtown revitalization.

Eddie Bumbaugh, executive director of HDR, says that when it began there were a lot of vacancies downtown and property owners were discouraged. “During the early part, people were not very hopeful that we would experience a dramatic change,” Bumbaugh says. “Now, looking back after 10 years, the mood is extremely high.”

Seven new businesses have made commitments to come downtown this year. That number includes a women’s clothing boutique, an outfitter store, a doughnut shop, a holistic counseling practice, a massage and juice lounge, a nail and massage parlor, and a real estate office.

Bumbaugh says that in the past 10 years the number of stores and restaurants in downtown Harrisonburg has gone from 43 to 93. Living space has also grown dramatically, rising from 150 units a decade ago to 500 today, with several mixed-use projects to come.

A $10.5 million renovation has begun at the former Cassco ice plant on Liberty Street. James Madison University plans to lease almost a third of the 80,000-square-foot Cassco building, which also would include business and residential space.

Bumbaugh says four additional businesses also intend to set up shop on West Bruce Street, where developer Barry Kelley expects to complete restoration of two buildings this summer. Kelley also is renovating The Hirsch Bros. Building on West Water Street, which Bumbaugh says will have 11 apartments on the top floor and retail on the ground floor.  The West Water Street project also should be finished this year.

After holding several public meetings, the city also plans to develop a park adjacent to its farmers market pavilion.  The city’s “Plan Our Park” committee is requesting proposals to develop plans for the park, operational recommendations and an economic impact study.

A hotel and conference center also is in the works. If it comes to fruition, the hotel would have 200 rooms, and the conference center would accommodate 600 to 700 people. The project is undergoing a feasibility study, Bumbaugh says.  The site could serve a couple of purposes, Bumbaugh says, including hosting out-of-town guests visiting JMU and downtown businesses, as well as driving traffic to local shops and restaurants.

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