Danville is “strong and getting stronger” because of the city’s efforts to create economic opportunities, eradicate blight and improve public safety, said Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders during a “State of the City” address on Wednesday at a meeting hosted by the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce.
In addition, Saunders told the group that the city’s finances are well managed and its costs are in line based on every metric from tax rates to levels of indebtedness to cash reserves.
“We’ve weathered the storm of a recession that started nearly five years ago, making tough choices in order to maintain stable finances, a low tax rate and low utility rates for our customers,” Saunders said. “Our staff works hard to look for ways to improve efficiency while maintaining the quality services we’re accustomed to enjoying.”
While acknowledging the city faces challenges, Saunders expressed confidence in meeting them.
“That’s shown in our past accomplishments and our continuing effort and our desire to make
Danville a community of choice and a community of opportunity,” Saunders said. “Our city is strong and getting stronger.”
Saunders said the city’s efforts could receive a boost if selected to participate in the federal “Strong Cities, Strong Communities” initiative. Danville was one of 91 cities invited to apply for the program. If selected, Danville will receive the assistance of federal agency expertise in developing and executing its economic vision and strategies.
In applying, Danville listed economic development, blight eradication and public safety as top priorities.
Saunders said Danville must be a place of upward mobility for its residents – a community of opportunity for those who work hard and constantly improve their knowledge, skills and abilities.
“Our economic development team works hard to recruit new businesses and help existing businesses thrive, and our City Council continues to be a big supporter of this effort,” Saunders said. “I’d dare say that many communities our size and larger would be envious of Danville’s recent successes.”
In the past year, companies such as Macerata Wheels, GOK International and Norhurst announced plans to begin operations in Danville. In addition, CBN Secure Technologies completed its expansion.
The city, he said, is proud of the international presence of businesses. He pointed to a flag-raising ceremony on Feb. 12 that celebrated the employment opportunities, cultural diversity and economic growth brought by 11 companies from 10 foreign countries. Flags from those countries continue to fly on Bridge Street, Saunders said, “as a reminder that Danville is a welcoming and business-friendly city.”
Saunders said the public planning for the River District continues to be a success. The River District has now attracted $78 million in private investment over five years. That figure outpaces public investment by threefold.
“Our River District is quickly gaining a reputation as the place to be for professional offices, commercial businesses and residential spaces,” Saunders said.
Historic buildings on Bridge Street in the River District now house the corporate headquarters and distribution operation of AllergEase and GOK’s headquarters and sales office.
Vintages by the Dan, Chestnut Lane, Attic Hound and Peace Haven Home Health all celebrated grand openings for their businesses on Main Street. Two more Main Street businesses soon will celebrate grand openings.
The former Smith Seeds building on Lynn Street is renovated and open for commercial, office and upscale loft apartments. Developers are renovating the Pemberton building on Bridge Street into 112 luxury apartments and commercial spaces.
Last week, the Golden Leaf Bistro restaurant on Craghead Street opened.
Saunders noted that City Council this year adopted design guidelines to maintain the attractive historic character of downtown and to protect the investment that the private sector has made to their properties.
He said the River District is part of the city’s multi-pronged approach to creating economic opportunities.
“This (multi-pronged approach) means continued investment in the River District, development of our industrial park properties and strategically expanding our utilities to maximize development opportunities,” Saunders said. “It also means continued investment in improving quality of life, developing our workforce, and childhood education.”
A multi-faceted approach also is taking place to eradicate blight.
Saunders said the city has started a number of services to homeowners and landlords to encourage continued maintenance of property. These services include a low-interest loan pool for homeowners to make needed repairs and a rental inspection program.
The city also is working with the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority to stabilize properties and return them to the marketplace. For structures that are unsafe and not economically feasible to repair, City Council has approved $2.1 million to pay the cost to remove them.
“Our aim is to do everything we can to preserve and rehabilitate properties where there is market potential and/or the over-investment in property can be justified because of the historic quality of the structure,” Saunders said. “We must, however, remove those that are so far gone that they impact neighborhood property values and constitute a health and safety hazard to the citizens who continue to live in the neighborhood.”
In addition to the commitment to improving the housing stock in Danville, the city also maintains a commitment to public safety, Saunders said.
He mentioned initiatives such as the “Safe & Sound Neighborhoods” program, which won top honors from the Virginia Municipal League. In addition, the Police Department has implemented a nationally recognized program that uses data-driven approaches to crime and traffic safety.
Saunders said these programs and the Police Department’s concerted effort to target drug and weapon crimes has led to the city’s relatively low incidence of violent crimes. Of the 39 cities in Virginia, Danville is 14th in population but 21st in the rate of violent crimes.
Reported traffic crashes have dropped 52 percent in the last 10 years by strategically targeting speeders, drunk drivers and traffic signal violators. “That is over 1,000 crashes that did not happen and where the resulting property damage, personal injury and economic losses were avoided,” Saunders said.
“We are making progress in continuing to make Danville a safe community.”
Saunders concluded, saying, “Our city is strong and getting stronger. We know what our challenges are. We understand our responsibilities. We see the possibilities. And with your help, we’re going to build a great future for this community.”