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During its Saturday work session at City Hall, City Council members agreed that the public was on target with its identification of investment priorities established by the Investing in Danville committee work completed last year following the successful casino referendum.
The Investing in Danville report can be found at: www.danvilleva.gov/casino.
The report identified “public education” as the top priority of the public, which was recently elevated by City Council as their highest priority. “If we want our community to truly thrive, Danville Public Schools needs to reclaim its status as a destination school system,” Mayor Alonzo Jones said.
City Manager Ken Larking said that he has been impressed with new Superintendent Dr. Angela Hairston’s approach to improving the school system. “The School Board’s plan to immediately conduct a strategic plan and get to work on addressing the items that will set the school system on the right path makes a lot of sense to me,” Larking said. “We all understand that a quality public education system is critical to our success as a community. It is the foundation upon which we stand that makes everything else come together.”
“A few months ago, I asked City Council to make Education the most important of our three priorities,” Mayor Jones said. “I am pleased that our residents have confirmed that we are putting our focus on what the public believes is most important. We look forward to working with the Dr. Hairston and the School Board to transform our schools for the better.”
The next priority identified by the public and agreed to by the City Council was economic development. City Council members discussed making sure that business and commercial areas throughout the City are supported, which will provide additional opportunities for entrepreneurship, jobs, and amenities. Economic Development Director Corrie Bobe said that the investments the public has made in the River District have had an excellent return on investment in jobs, amenities, housing, and capital investment. “There has been approximately $35 million in public investment, which has resulted in over $185 million in new capital investment,” Bobe said.
Larking added that the effort in the River District started with the public sector investing resources into improved infrastructure and performance-based incentives for businesses. “When we first started nearly 10 years ago, we had to be more aggressive and give longer lead times for our return on investment,” Larking said. “There are still some key properties that will need some assistance in order to make development possible, but they all have a future payback in new tax base, new opportunities for jobs and businesses, and additional amenities which make our award-winning River District an attractive destination.”
Bobe added, “Based on the successes and best practices within the River District, we have developed a plan to expand our focus on commercial development to additional areas of the city over the next two years.“
A few years ago, “public safety” was the number one priority for City Council. Since then, Police Chief Scott Booth has worked to fully integrate a neighborhood policing model, which recently resulted in the City’s crime rate falling to a 35-year low. In addition, the City has focused on prevention and intervention efforts for young people through the work of the gang prevention efforts of Robert David. “It is important that we keep up these efforts,” said Mayor Jones. “It is clearly making a positive difference in our community and especially for our young people.”
Other priorities identified by the public and affirmed by City Council include infrastructure improvement, community health, quality housing, quality of life amenities, and financial stability. “While these items are listed in priority order, each one remains critically important to our success,” said Larking.
The day started with a presentation from Danville Regional Foundation President Clark Casteel. He described the guiding principles that the Investing in Danville committee used to produce their report, which are described on pages 10-11 of the report’s PowerPoint presentation.
“When looking at the guiding principles the committee and City Council developed, there are three things of note,” said Casteel. “We first must create a shared vision for the future and shared goals to help us be the community we want to be. Second, that mediocre is expensive when competing with other communities. By developing excellence, we will attract excellence. And lastly that we must build trust and collaboration across all divides. In a world where billions is spent annually to divide us, places that can come together will be those that succeed in the future. That’s who we need to be.”
Also, during the retreat, Larking shared recommendations on using the upfront casino revenues to make initial investments that were largely influenced by the Investing in Danville committee. “There are some things we can do now to improve our community and help prepare us for the influx of new visitors once the Caesars resort is fully operational,” he said. “This includes neighborhood revitalization efforts, airport improvements, enhancing neighborhood parks, completing the downtown park, and marketing and supporting new and existing tourist assets.”
Joe Mason and David Rose from Davenport and Company, the City’s financial advisors, presented options for how to leverage already received casino funds to get a head start on projects that were identified by the committee, City Council members, and staff to pay for investments in a way fiscally responsible manner.
“In two years, we are going to have millions of visitors coming to our City every year,” said Mayor Jones. “We want to give them the best impression of Danville so that we can build upon our reputation as a great place to call HOME.”