Community meetings have reinforced the importance of creating a vibrant downtown Crozet. Residents were encouraged to “think big,” and they did. Bold ideas were put forth for a well-connected, gridded network of streets and bike/pedestrian facilities, parking structures, and high-quality civic space. People also reiterated the need for more quality employment opportunities in downtown. The big question is: how can we as a community help make it happen?
It was clear at the public meetings that local businesses are a top priority. In order to attract and support local businesses, the cost of the commercial space must be affordable for them. In order for it to be affordable, there will need to be a partnership between the developer, property owners, the Crozet community and Albemarle County. Each partner will have an important role to play. The county needs an effective economic development plan to attract businesses. It also needs to assist with some of the infrastructure that won’t be built without public participation. Developers and private property owners need to attract private investment capital and meet requirements of the banks that provide development loans. The community can serve as a channel for both public and philanthropic funds that may be available to help bridge the remaining gap. Community-wide support and input for the development also is vital. Success for all parties will require trust, transparency and steadfast commitment to a shared vision that creates real opportunities for businesses, property owners and the Crozet community.
This idea is not a new one. In fact, it has been used in many mixed-use developments across the nation. Gary Okerlund, a local architect with Okerlund Associates and a faculty member of the University of Virginia's School of Architecture, wrote a 4-page paper outlining the process that citizens, developers and local government should take to ensure that community revitalization projects are a success. He says that in order for projects like Barnes Lumber to have long-term success, full citizen involvement is crucial. You can read more about this article here.