Lynchburg City is located in the center of the state of Virginia. The city is settled directly above the James River. It is a city whose downtown blocks have had a facelift in the last 15 years. In 2000, downtown Lynchburg was a place of a pawn shop or two, a struggling restaurant here and there, an old YMCA, a welcome center and a rehabilitation center, and a sometimes-used community market. It was not a hopping small town like many other historic small towns on the east coast. In fact, it was a place with little traffic and sketchy parking garages that most residents of the surrounding counties only went to when they received a traffic ticket within city limits or to make a deposit at the Bank of the James. The only residents that lived in downtown Lynchburg lived in housing developments on the farthest edge from the riverfront in apartment complexes settled between the the police department and public middle school. There were incredibly few single family homes.
In 2000 a Downtown & Riverfront Master Plan was drawn up. This plan expressed all of the projects, intended projects, and dreams for the riverfront blocks of downtown Lynchburg. Within the whole comprehensive plan, there are a number of projects that developers created. I have chosen to focus on the Downtown & Riverfront Master Plan for multiple reasons. I grew up in this city and lived about two miles from the area of focus. I both witnessed and experienced the changes that happened in this city. There are restaurants downtown that myself and other family members worked in for years, a pawn shop that my aunt managed, coffee shops and bars that my father’s band has played in, and a YMCA that my mother’s volleyball team practiced in. Also, there are clear, tangible changes that stemmed directly from this plan, and some ideas in the plan that did not make the cut.
In this short essay, I would like to use this plan to examine some of the private and public projects that were proposed in 2000; I am going to analyze who was invested and who would benefit from these projects. I will draw some comparisons to the Brooklyn Matters video we watched in class as well as draw some ideas and comparisons from Bartley’s Green Development Zones.
One public project that gain much attention in the community was the development of the Riverview Artist Lofts. Essentially, the Riverview Art Space, a gallery in a renovated historic building for local artists to display and sell their work, was equipped with 36 loft apartments for those artists to be able to live where they worked and displayed their work. Still sound like a public or non-profit project? When this was drafted in the plan, it already had a government grant but still needed $4.5 million to be fully funded. It also already had deposits from artists to save their loft before the lofts were even renovated. Who was invested? Developers, artists, and local, wealthy investors to “close the gap via additional private investment.” So government money for housing was being spent on lofts specified for artists who would rent the apartments and gallery space. Who had power? The developers and private investors. Who would benefit from this projects? The developers, private investors, the 36 artists who got their deposits in soon enough, and any retail places nearby that needed a little extra foot traffic of gallery-goers. In this instance in Lynchburg, government money was used on multipurpose housing to house a very small and select group of individuals. In Brooklyn Matters, Ratner and his developers and investors proposed public “affordable” housing for people across classes to be able to afford, arguably a better proposed use of money, regardless of the outcome. The development did however supply jobs for artists in the area, a space for art events, and more foot traffic in an area with other local businesses.
A few other public projects in this plan were Amazement Square, a children’s museum, and the Community Market. Both projects have successfully benefited the intended beneficiaries, supplied jobs to the community, both in renovation and after opening, and drawn more of the surrounding community downtown.
Multiple private housing projects were also proposed in this 2000 plan. Because of the quantity historic industrial buildings in the blocks of riverfront Lynchburg, many private developers caught the same idea to transform these spaces into loft apartments. On Jefferson St., 12th St., 5th St. and Court St., private investors proposed housing plans. On Jefferson St. alone, just a few hundred yards from the restaurant I worked in for 3 years, two loft apartment buildings have opened, one in May of 2014, one within the last year. Between these two, there were 281 new units available downtown. Midpoint in particular is in fact managed a team of realtors and property managers that were already Lynchburg residents. Both projects provided local construction companies with jobs. Midpoint Apartments has a restaurant space on the first floor that has remained unoccupied but is between three popular restaurants and is neighbor to an outdoor stage used for festivals and other riverfront events. The park that has developed across from these lofts transformed from an unlit, empty, green space parallel to the train tracks into a lit, landscaped, family park with a modern walk-through style fountain and path connecting two riverside bike trails. The intention of developing both the lofts and park simultaneously was not only to improve the view and heighten property values, but also to provide the park and residents an “eyes on the park” idea to improve the feeling of safety and community unity along Jefferson St. Who was invested? Private investors, local wealthy residents that wanted shares, and potential new retail owners; new residents in expensive buildings meant customers in walking distance. Who would benefit? Local businesses (construction companies, restaurants, retail, museums and galleries, community events), 281 upper-middle class renters, and developers.
Other private projects in downtown Lynchburg included a Bluff-Walk center (think NYC’s High Line on a much smaller scale), and, proposed but never completed, an ice rink and a multi-screen cinema.
How Do We Categorize Lynchburg’s Growth and Development?
I do not think that Lynchburg falls into the category of a community growth machine. Bartley says that a community growth machine “harnesses the power and material momentum of an industrial complex but… applies it to meet the infrastructure and employment needs of low-income neighborhoods.” The infrastructure needs of the low-income neighborhoods were not expensive and limited housing, four star restaurants, and gallery and museum space. Though these elements of the development did supply some employment opportunities, they did not create well-paying, career opportunities. Bartley laid out some of the objectives that PUSH aimed for as a type of growth machine. Though the development of riverfront/downtown Lynchburg did execute some of these objectives, other objectives that implemented benefits for the entire community, regardless of class, were not met. Bartley’s ideas of promoting triple bottom line principles of enhancing environment, equity, and economy and identifying, training, and employing community leaders were not intentions or outcomes of Lynchburg’s development. Bartley identified the necessity to build on the community’s assets, but the development in Lynchburg was more about creating what they wanted to become the community’s assets. The development of downtown Lynchburg is a product of developers’ ideas of what the city needed and private investors’ that saw potential for the riverfront and for their own pockets. Though the project did create a more attractive and lively downtown within a mere 15 years. On a much smaller scale, and not as potentially catastrophic, this project could be seen as a reflection of Ratner’s approach to Brooklyn. I see Lynchburg as a place that was told what they needed and wanted, and received those things regardless of the actual needs of the community.
Bartley, Aaron. 2011. The Green Development Zone.
Brooklyn Matters 2007
Lynchburg Downtown and Riverfront Master Plan 2000.