Harrisonburg’s first-ever downtown master plan in progress
Kirsten Moore opened Magpie Diner in downtown Harrisonburg in August 2020.
Despite pandemic dining restrictions, she’s regularly had customers willing to wait up to two hours for a table on weekends.
As a nearly lifelong Harrisonburg resident, Moore says that level of activity — especially along downtown’s newly developing north end — shows the progress the city has made in recent decades.
“For the last 20 years, downtown Harrisonburg has seen a tremendous amount of growth and redevelopment,” says Brian Shull, Harrisonburg’s director of economic development.
The number of residences downtown — a key metric watched by downtown revitalization groups — increased from 150 in 2003 to 591 in late 2020.
City leaders believe Harrisonburg’s 40-block central business district is poised for more growth in the years ahead.
In March, the city partnered with community booster nonprofit Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance to launch Harrisonburg Downtown 2040. This long-term visioning process aims to engage residents, visitors and business owners to identify priorities that should guide downtown’s development over the next two decades.
The city has hired Interface Studio, a Philadelphia-based planning firm, to lead the process. The final master plan — a first for the city’s downtown area — is expected for a fall 2021 completion.
Andrea Dono, executive director of Downtown Harrisonburg Renaissance, says the city has made great gains in the past 15 years, working through the Virginia Main Street revitalization program and becoming the first city in Virginia to adopt the designation of a downtown culinary district to boost restaurants.
“We have had a very low vacancy rate,” she says. “We have just nowhere to go but up from here.”
The planning process could open discussion about issues on the minds of business owners and residents. For example, Dono says, many entrepreneurs are seeking smaller commercial spaces, since downtown’s large-footprint historic buildings often have too much room for small enterprises.
Moore, who serves on Harrisonburg Downtown 2040’s steering committee, hopes the process will spur discourse on how to better connect booming commercial areas of town, which feel separated by the large judicial complex in the town’s center. So far, she says, she’s been impressed with Interface’s approach to creating the plan.
“They have picked up on the things that really need to be picked up on to improve quality of life,” she says. “I think it’s a great exercise, and I’m looking forward to it.”