Lynchburg association lands $310k in grants to aid downtown efforts
Funding will support holiday lights, storefronts, entrepreneurs
With help in part from three state grants, Downtown Lynchburg Association is working to brighten the city’s scenic Bluffwalk for the holidays and fill downtown stores.
DLA combined a $75,000 Virginia Main Street Downtown Investment Grant with other funding to launch Bright Nights on the Bluffwalk, an eight-week event set to kick off Nov. 17 with a festival.
DLA received the funding as part of $2.91 million in Virginia Main Street, Community Business Launch and Virginia Business District Resurgence grants awarded in September for 45 projects across Virginia.
The association received a total of $310,000, the most of any locality. It included a $135,000 Virginia Business District Resurgence Grant for a microgrant program to allow small businesses to make storefront and beautification improvements and a $100,000 Community Business Launch Grant for DLA’s Launch LYH entrepreneurial support program and pitch competition, which begins its second program in 2024.
Bright Nights will transform the city’s four-block pedestrian walkway overlooking the James River into a wonderland of lights, large-scale installations and festive music, says DLA Executive Director Ashley Kershner. The organization had wanted to create a holiday experience to attract people downtown after Lynchburg’s annual Christmas Parade moved to midtown in 2016. The state grant provided the last piece of funding needed for the $210,000 celebration, she says.
“We anticipate that this event will draw families and new visitors to our vibrant downtown area, creating a significant boost to local businesses, hotels, and attractions, and enriching the overall holiday spirit of our community,” says Marjette Upshur, Lynchburg’s economic development and tourism director.
DLA serves a 73-block area that currently has a 23% vacancy rate due largely to an ongoing project to replace old water lines and install new sidewalks, according to Kershner. The first Launch LYH program, which launched in January 2023, is helping fill empty buildings, Kershner says.
Launch LNY received more than 100 applications, and selected 25 applicants to participate in an eight-week education course culminating in a pitch competition. Seven winners received cash grants to help with new venture costs. The grants ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 and could be used for rent, build-out, inventory, or other startup costs. They also received a prize package that included assistance with site selection, permitting and marketing.
Four winners have already signed leases and will open their businesses in the next few months. Among them is Tia Hancock, who is opening an indoor plant boutique, PREAM (Plants Rule Everything Around Me), at 409 Fifth St., where customers can create their own potting soil mixes.
Hancock says she gained a wealth of knowledge from Launch LYH about the back end of running a business and forged strong connections with her classmates and mentors. The program also helped her find her store location, which has large windows that let in lots of light for plants.
“Honestly, the most valuable thing I got out of this whole program was the people that I met in the class and the people teaching it,” Hancock says. “The four winners … have built a close relationship. We went through this process together, so not only am I not alone, but when things fall apart, I have at least three other people to call and vent to, and they know exactly what I’m talking about. I do have mentors that I can call for that same exact thing. A lot came out of this more than simply money.”