It comes as no surprise that readers voted Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance as the “Best Use of Taxpayer Money” for the seventh consecutive year.
HDR, a public-private partnership created in 2003 to revitalize downtown Harrisonburg, has swept the category every year since 2010. Executive director Andrea L. Dono said the organization is “extremely proud” of its winning streak.
“It’s an expression of satisfaction from the community we serve,” Dono said. “The community’s vote of confidence [shows] that they like what they see downtown … and want to see that our work continues.”
A study from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development found that for every dollar that goes into HDR’s budget, another $16.45 of public and private investment occurs, Dono cited.
She also said HDR has logged more than 100,000 volunteer hours since 2004, which is valued at $2.6 million, a rate calculated by the nonprofit Independent Sector.
“We have a staff of four, but [we] do a lot of work through several committees of community volunteers,” she said. “The in-kind support we get from community members helps us get the most bang out of our buck.”
Two-thirds of HDR’s funds come from donations, grants, fundraising events, sponsorships and merchandise sales.
Besides hosting downtown’s biggest events of the year, such as the Rocktown Beer & Music Festival, Valley Fourth, Taste of Downtown and the Skeleton Festival, HDR works behind the scenes to make downtown Harrisonburg a place where people want to live, work and play.
The small organization — with only four paid staff members — has helped bring in dozens of restaurants and retail shops to downtown. Today, downtown Harrisonburg has nearly 40 restaurants in 40 blocks. The city’s downtown has built a reputation as a foodie destination since it became the state’s only Culinary District in 2014.
“We’ve been hard at work for quite some time to make sure downtown is a vibrant place and has a lot to offer,” Dono said.
In just a few years, the number of housing units downtown jumped from 150 to over 500, Dono said. Several new apartment spaces have opened, including Sancar Flats, Urban Exchange and The Livery Lofts, to name a few. HDR works with developers to take advantage of historic tax credits.
“[We] help create an environment where people want to live, to make it a walkable community with [vibrant] businesses,” she said.
HDR has played an instrumental part in the establishment of urban mixed-use buildings such as the Ice House project, and other large-scale revitalization projects, including the Keezell Building, the Hess Building and the Train Depot.
Right now, HDR is working on a market analysis project that Dono said will be finished by July. The market analysis researches the local economy to find opportunities for growth. HDR will share the data with the city’s economic development office, James Madison University and the Rockingham County Economic Development office, “that way we can be more strategic,” Dono said.
Once the market analysis project is finished, HDR is looking into starting an innovative small business assistance program that will provide training to local entrepreneurs. HDR is waiting to secure a grant for the program.
Meanwhile, the Build Our Park project is still in the process. Dono said they hope to break ground on the expansion of Turner Pavilion within a year.
HDR is also gearing up for its Friendly City Fortunate raffle on July 4. The organization is giving away $250,000 in cash and prizes. The proceeds from raffle ticket sales will go directly toward HDR’s downtown projects. Dono hopes to raise $200,000 from the raffle.