On the far left is Mark Aron, multimedia design manager for the city (he runs River City TV and is the interviewer). Then from left to right: Diana Schwartz, RDA executive director, Will Mackaman, programs and services manager, Kirsten Aherron, communications and events manager, and Alyssa Turner, bookkeeper and office manager, all for RDA. Screenshot from Facebook.

For the second year in a row, Danville’s River District Association is a semifinalist for the national Great American Main Street Award – the only semifinalist from Virginia. 

The award is given by Main Street America, an organization that has been helping revitalize historic communities for 40 years. 

Diana Schwartz, executive director of Danville’s River District Association, and her team announced the achievement Wednesday during a Facebook livestream with River City TV, Danville’s government-educational access channel. 

“[Main Street America] recognizes eight communities that are exceptional in the work that they’re doing in the revitalization of downtowns,” Schwartz said. “It’s the most prestigious honor you can get with this particular organization.”

Winners of the Great American Main Street Award have this designation forever, she said. 

“Should we be so lucky to win, we’d be named among some of the finest communities in the United States,” Schwartz said.  

The seven other semifinalists are located in Denison, Texas; Florence, South Carolina; Metuchen, New Jersey; Orlando, Florida; Ruston, Louisiana; Sheridan, Wyoming; and Sykesville, Maryland. 

Together, the semifinalists have “generated over $872 million in local reinvestment, helped open 863 net new businesses, facilitated the creation of 4,706 net new jobs, catalyzed the rehabilitation of 1,922 historic buildings, and leveraged 178,452 volunteer hours,” according to a release. 

In Danville alone, the River District Association has opened or expanded 15 new businesses since January. And in the last 10 years, $54 million in public investment has led to $258 million in private investment in downtown revitalization. 

“The thing I like most about this award is, it’s hard for us to see sometimes in a community the growth that has taken place,” Schwartz said. 

It’s like when you have a child, she said. You’re there every day as the child grows up, and it’s hard to notice the drastic changes that are occurring. But when other relatives come, and see the child for the first time in a while, the change is very apparent. 

“That is happening here,” she said. “Everyone outside of Danville can definitely see this change.”

The River District Association is an accredited National Main Street organization, which originated in 1999 as the Downtown Danville Association. It was formed to revitalize Danville’s downtown, now called the River District.  

The Virginia Main Street program is over 20 years old and has national recognition as “the most successful formula for downtown revitalization,” according to RDA’s website. 

This downtown revival involves working with the city, local businesses and institutions to create programming, funding and events to bring the River District back to life. 

Other cities in Virginia, like Lynchburg, Lexington, South Boston and Altavista have Main Street organizations. But Danville’s is the sole Virginia representative among the eight finalists. 

“I need our friends here in the community to understand that we’re an example, we’re a model for revitalization downtown,” Schwartz said. “It is a comeback city, and that’s why we’re being nominated for this award.”

The winners of this award will be announced in March 2023 at a conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.