5th Street: At the Heart of It

From Lynchburg Business Magazine: May 2011

by Daryl Calfee

If you have major artery blockage around your heart, the doctor will operate, try to repair the damage, build and replace where needed and put you on a healthy plan of diet and exercise. The same can be said of 5th Street. Fifth Street is the main artery into mid-town Lynchburg. According to city traffic studies, over 20,000 cars a day use the road. Not only is it a prime connector, it is flanked by some of the most beautiful and historic residences in the Hill City, including those in Garland Hill.
No doubt, there are years of neglect and unhealthy upkeep, but recent improvements and plans have brought hope of recovery. So, what’s next for 5th Street?

Following The Master Plan
With Phase One of the 5th Street master plan complete—reflected in the much safer round-about and general streetscape improvements, such as benches and trash cans—the city now moves to Phase Two. Phase Two is more about the replacement of key sewer lines but while the construction of the infrastructure is occurring, the street projects make sense to follow parallel.
According to 5th Street Master Plan (available at lynchburgva.gov), Phase Two will involve more streetscape improvements from Madison to Church Streets, including new sidewalks, benches, trash cans and trees.
A large portion of streetscape improvement funding comes from the Transportation Enhancement Grant Program administered by VDOT which, in turn, is funded by the federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act, or SAFETEA. In addition to the city’s Capital Improvements Program, the other important source of support is the Virginia Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program, which funded the development of this plan, along with the purchase of street furniture for 5th Street.
The purpose of all of these improvements is to better the community by making 5th Street more attractive and accessible, which will hopefully lead to more development. Phase Two is planned to begin this month and with take about 20 months to complete.

Development
Just like in downtown Arlington, Alexandria, and Richmond before it, 5th Street is in a promising position for developers with the potential to become a hip, gentrified local version of SoHo or Carytown. The property values are affordable and mostly undeveloped. So, why have few made the leap?

Several reasons, including local stigmas of 5th Street, still abound and the wave of downtown revitalization may just now be making it up the corridor. Fortunately, those stigmas are changing with time and clean-up and there is hope of a possible 5th Street Historic nomination, which will aid developers in renovations.

What Goes Where?
Recently, the Lynchburg City Housing Authority transferred two properties in the 700 block (702 & 708) to Lynchburg Neighborhood Development Foundation (LNDF) for $1. Both buildings were set for demolition due to their decayed state, but LNDF (an organization that is making an effort to develop the surrounding block) believes they can be secured and repurposed.
The contract requires LNDF to stabilize the buildings by June 30 and complete the rehabilitation in two years.

The president of LNDF, Laura Dupuy, organized a recent “design charette,” meant to solicit feedback from the community and open the conversations for the best design and usage of the 700 block. Dupuy has been a leader in revitalizing several key areas along 5th Street. The most recent and notable of which is the revitalization of the old Pyramid Motors building, which now is home to the Centra Johnson Health Center.
Dupuy says her hope is to see “success made by community.” LNDF is working with the Fifth Street Community Development Corporation to ensure the development is in line with the 5th Street Master Plan.
“LNDF has a record of getting things done and creating quality development along the 5th Street Corridor,” Scott Smith, a Fifth Street CDC Board Members said.
Smith, who lives along the same corridor, is a part of that community—a community that has been asking for several things, namingly, a grocery store, restaurants and a pharmacy. The challenge is making those things come to be in a previously depressed area.

Jason Ivy from Charlottesville saw that opportunity and rehabbed 700 5th Street on his own. Ivy is now opening the new DOLLAR MAXX store this month.

“The store will offer basic, everyday needs at an affordable price,” said Ivy, noting that this is something that the community of 5th Street has been wanting. “Small steps are paving the way. There is a tremendous amount of potential and I believe the time has come.”

Over the next two years, residents can expect to see lots of construction signs, dumpsters and even delays along 5th Street. But for many, it’s a welcome trade-off … simply part of the surgery in hopes of creating a healthier city, one block at a time.

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