What is in the works with the new DARRE downtown revitalization program?

BY RAY MOELLER, WV BROWNFIELDS ASSISTANCE CENTER; EMILY WILSON-HAUGER, WOODLANDS DEVELOPMENT & LENDING; AND STACY THOMAS, WV COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT HUB

The Appalachian Regional Commission recently announced the 2021 POWER grant awards, including Downtown Appalachia: Revitalizing Recreational Economies (DARRE), a partnership between the WV Northern Brownfields Assistance Center, Woodlands Development & Lending, Partner Community Capital (formerly Natural Capital Investment), and the WV Community Development Hub. DARRE brings together numerous partners throughout the state and region to undertake a deliberate and concentrated approach to supporting the development and revitalization of historic downtowns. 

We and our partners will provide support and professional services to eight gateway communities: Cowen, Elkins, Franklin, Marlinton, Parsons, Petersburg, Richwood, and White Sulphur Springs. These communities are also part of the Mon Forest Towns Partnership, a partnership that supports Monongahela National Forest gateway communities to enhance the economy and quality of life for residents and visitors.

The partners working on DARRE are building on work started by – and still ongoing – through The Mon Forest Towns Partnership. Activities happening through DARRE will work in support of communities reaching their goals as outlined in the newly adopted Mon Forest Towns Partnership strategic plan, including specifically the “Create a downtown experience that recreationalists would enjoy” goal. Visit https://monforesttowns.com/ to learn more about the Partnership’s work.

Downtown areas in these communities have rich histories and characters. However, they are all in very different states of activity. Additionally, each downtown building is unique and the path to redevelopment will not look the same for any two buildings. DARRE will bring effective inventories, tools, partners, and prioritization to these communities over the next three years, laying the groundwork for several completed projects in the long-term – projects that will serve as catalysts to holistic and sustainable downtown redevelopment. Connecting entrepreneurs with available downtown spaces and potential developers with building projects will bring visible impact to downtown environments. The partners working on the DARRE program will support the participating towns with the kinds of technical assistance that makes their downtowns “development ready,” including:

  • Downtown property inventories that are up-to-date, comprehensive, and fully informed; 
  • Attractive and informative property detail sheets and take-away materials provided for “Opportunity (Developer) Tours” to showcase the properties;
  • Analysis of downtown business diversity; 
  • Identification and vetting of primary redevelopment targets; 
  • Optimal building reuse and feasibility planning; 
  • Ideal redevelopment project opportunities strategized and financially planned to be ready for proposals.


The more people problem-solving and coalescing around shared goals a
nd visions, the more likely opportunities will arise from difficult projects, and they will move toward redevelopment and downtowns will be revitalized.

The DARRE program will allow numerous organizations to continue working together and build new partnerships, each in their area of expertise and strength to bring maximum benefit to the communities and achieve the best results. The Northern Brownfields Assistance Center at WVU will directly support inventories, business needs analyses, predevelopment technical assistance needs identification and deployment, partnership engagements, Opportunity Tour facilitation, and will assure city, community, property owner, and partner communications. The Brownfields Assistance Center at WVU has over five years of experience deploying the Downtown Appalachia program and many years providing brownfield redevelopment-related services. 

Woodlands Development & Lending is a Community Development Corporation and Community Development Financial Institution with experience developing affordable housing, redeveloping downtown buildings, assisting downtown building owners, and assisting with community facilities development and community planning efforts, as well as providing small business technical assistance and lending capital to start-up and growing small businesses. Woodlands will continue its existing work in the region with partners (including its successful Mon Forest Business Initiative), and will help connect projects, entrepreneurs, and building owners to new resources and partners. 

The WV Community Development Hub has actively worked in all eight of these communities in the last three years in our community coaching programs. The Hub will continue to serve as a connector and convener, utilizing existing relationships with community members and community teams to assist communities in realizing their goals for thriving downtown and recreational economies. Each community will work with a community coach to help foster community engagement, develop partnerships and relationships, conduct business surveys, and host community events in relation to the development work. 

The goal is to truly work alongside each community and supplement the area’s inherent strengths. Similarly, we will draw upon the varied and valued strengths of the impressive partnerships that have been aligned for this challenging effort. Make no mistake, the challenge is real and this is a unique strategy to employ in addressing it, one requiring all shoulders at the wheel. 

The goal for DARRE is to support the energy, planning, and work taking place in each community and complement it by bringing additional expertise and resources to downtown redevelopment. DARRE isn’t a one-size-fits-all checklist but should help further the priorities for these eight communities. It is a relationship-based, dynamic, grassroots collaboration that includes all voices, creatively problem-solves, and uses the tools and resources at its disposal to take deliberate steps towards a long-term vision. Simply put, this program will bring strategic partners together to work with communities on their redevelopment journey.  

The DARRE program will officially launch in the Spring of 2022. In the meantime, if you have questions, please reach out to Stacy Thomas at s.thomas@wvhub.org or Kaycie Stushek at k.stushek@wvhub.org.  

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