BLACKSBURG, Va – We got our first look at Blacksburg's downtown strategic plan Monday night. It focuses on making downtown a place people want to go to, whether that's through available housing, more parking, or more accessibility.
The town of Blacksburg is in one of the most unique positions across the towns of Southwest Virginia. It has a strong heritage as a college town, but much of the new development in the town has been fueled by people moving to Blacksburg that aren't college students. So the question on the table was how do you make a downtown work for college students and non-college students alike, and town leaders think they have the solution.
The vision for downtown Blacksburg's next 20 years is hot off the presses. Thousands of comments and countless hours of work were put in laying the groundwork for what will help guide the future to come.
"Hopefully everyone gets excited about some of it I don't think everyone's going to like everything, but I think we've come to a great consensus through the process of where the community wants go," Blacksburg Assistant to the Town Manager Matt Hanratty said.
The plan focuses on a more vibrant downtown for all modes of transit and aims to encourage more people to use the downtown space. The millennium master plan gave things like Market Square Park and the College Avenue Promenade. That plan left a solid foundation to build upon looking toward 2040, which has business owners and developers excited. Michelle Raub owns both t.r. collection and Sugar Magnolia, which are both located on Main Street and have been successful.
"The synergies that we're looking at with all of the retail, the pedestrian, the bike, there's so many opportunities to really bring some vibrancy downtown, and (that is something) we're really excited about," Raub said.
One of the key focus areas of the plan is making sure everyone has a place to live. Blacksburg is used to welcoming newcomers to town, but that's traditionally been just college students. Present day Blacksburg is attracting young professionals, families and retirees alike from all over the world and wanting to put down permanent roots which can be tough to do because of the housing situation.
"You don't appreciate it when you're younger but it's wonderful now and we knew," a Virginia Tech alum who just moved back to the area said. "We're renting now, we love our home, but we have been looking to buy and it did take a long time."
That puts Blacksburg in a unique position with two distinct populations living in the same area, and both growing rapidly at the same time. Students have different needs from the non-student population and the town said this plan addresses both of their needs, creating something inter-generational that strives to build off Virginia Tech's growth.
"That also helps us with entrepreneurship, start up business and keeping those young professionals or graduates to become young professionals in our community," Hanratty said.
The next step for the plan is to go before town council for adoption and that is expected next week. After that, community leaders will take a look at the plan to prioritize what things they want to see first, and start putting those steps into motion.