Two Hampton Roads communities have been chosen for a new program administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) aimed at strengthening small-town business communities.
Hilton Village in Newport News and Phoebus in Hampton will be among ten Virginia towns to participate in the first Mobilizing Main Street Program, a two-year effort that will provide a framework to strengthen their guiding organizations, Historic Hilton Village (HHV),Inc, and the Partnership for a New Phoebus. The goal is eventually achieving the coveted “Virginia Main Street” designation.
“Historic Hilton Village began the challenging work of aligning with the Virginia Main Street Program Model in 2020, giving renewed purpose to the 40-year-old non-profit,” said Theresa Cansler, HHV president. “Our beloved community is known for its rich history, quaint merchant district, and strong spirit. Building upon the momentum of our centennial celebration, the non-profit made the strategic decision to pursue designation under this dynamic state and national program.”
Participating communities will work with DHCD staff to prepare their community for economic opportunities. Each business district will have an individualized work plan, with established benchmarks to measure progress. DHCD will assist organizations with market analysis, design assessments, and grant management.
“The Virginia Main Street program has been transforming communities for over 35 years, and it continues to be critical to economic development, small business growth, and job creation across the commonwealth,” said DHCD Director Bryan Horn. “This new program will foster local and ongoing community development efforts while offering targeted support to participating organizations to ensure their future success in the Virginia Main Street program.”
The Virginia Main Street Program is a preservation-based economic and community development program that follows the approach created by the National Main Street Center. Virginia Main Street offers services and assistance to communities interested in revitalizing their historic commercial districts.
“What this will allow us to do is take our ideas and plans from excitement to fruition,” said J.B. Brown-Crowley, executive director of Hilton Village Main Street. “The city has so many areas to oversee it can’t possibly manage at a micro level. But this will allow us to figure out how we can best partner with the city to help our merchants find customers and retain them.”
Brown-Crowley said part of the mission will also be identifying properties that are in need of preservation and improving the occupancy rate among existing buildings.
HHV’s first step will be to survey merchants and residents to find out what they see as the most critical needs to ensure growth and success. “We need to know why people leave the Village to shop,” Brown-Crowley said. “What are they finding elsewhere that they cannot find here?”
Acceptance into the program will provide both Hilton Village and Phoebus with architectural preservation grant opportunities, and merchant “vitality funding.”
Phoebus, part of the city of Hampton, has been around for more than 400 years, settled by the English, who seized the Native American village of Kecoughtan in 1610 and founded a farming settlement. The railroad station and the first post office in the community were named in honor of Harrison Phoebus, the owner of the Hygeia, a luxurious 1,000-room resort hotel – a forerunner of the Chamberlain Hotel on Fort Monroe.
Hilton Village was created in 1918 to create housing for workers at Newport News Shipbuilding. In 2022, the commercial district there celebrated its vitality with nine new business openings.
“You’re looking at a neighborhood that’s been here for more than 100 years and plans to be here for at least another 100,” Brown-Crowley said. “It’s gratifying that others see our full potential and agree that we are worth the investment.”