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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For too long, who and what it means to be a West Virginian has been defined for us. It’s time to redefine the Mountain State in our own words and in the eyes of the world. West Virginia can be anything we want it to be – let’s redefine it together.

Parsons

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Message from our Executive Leadership Team

Fifteen years ago, stakeholders building up local communities and economies in West Virginia convened to map a coordinated strategy to systemically grow community economic development activity in the state. From the shared vision and collaborative leadership of dozens of strategic partners across the state, the WV Community Development Hub was born.

Since that time, The Hub has grown into the anchor community development organization serving West Virginia. We have built upon the original vision to create a method for rural, community-led development strategies that is uniquely tailored to the needs and opportunities of our state.

As we have grown and developed a proven model for success, our partnerships with community and economic development practitioners, funders, and committed West Virginia residents have been foundational to every element of our work.

Over the past two years, the team at The Hub has adapted to the unprecedented challenges our communities have faced during the pandemic by leaning into our core strengths to deepen our impact. The Hub remains committed to tackling persistent challenges, and we have focused our attention on the most impactful elements of our work.

We are supporting community leaders to advance their visions for local development, creating new pathways for engagement and leadership growth through our virtual training platform, and leading strategies that lift up voices of community leaders to move forward solutions to long-held challenges to growth.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that nothing about the future is set in stone. While the coming year may present enormous opportunities for advancement in our state, they will also inevitably require significant capacity building, shared strategies that are grounded in trust-based partnerships, and extended efforts to support the leadership development of individuals and organizations who have been asked to do more during a time of extreme stress and strain.

The services that anchor organizations like The Hub provide are even more critical in this time, and we expect our work to scale significantly in the coming years ahead.

We look forward to continuing to do the work of putting into action the vision and the shared strategies envisioned by that core group of community economic development practitioners and funders fifteen years ago.

In Continued Accompaniment,

– WV Community Development Hub
Executive Leadership Team

Stephanie Tyree

Executive Director

Amanda Workman Scott

Director of Community Engagement

Emma Pepper

Director of Strategic Network Communications

Katie Loudin

Director of Strategic Development

Montgomery

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Smithers

Residents participated in the Cultivate WV program to kickstart community and economy building. Read their community case study.

Kingwood

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Lewis County

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future.

Meadow River Valley Region

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Monticello Neighborhood of Clarksburg

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Watch their community documentary.

New Martinsville

Residents participated in the Blueprint Communities* program to engage their neighbors and co-create strategic plans for their future. Read their community case study.

Systemic Change

2021 became a time period of catalytic potential as we saw years of investment into our core strategies to enact systemic change yield new results. Our strategic focus areas include policy, communications, and supporting the community economic development system in leveraging unique financing opportunities such as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative and Opportunity Zones.

In addition, through our strategic policy support role within the Abandoned Properties Coalition, The Hub successfully advanced two key objectives: the creation of a statewide land bank at the West Virginia Land Stewardship Corporation and extension of the state’s Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. 

Through the Opportunity Appalachia program, 6 catalytic community projects located in WV-based Opportunity Zones received $250,000 for pre-development technical assistance. Three projects received additional private funding as a result of program participation.

Community Coaching

In 2021, we accompanied 16 communities through our in-depth, professional coaching programs. In addition to leaning into coaching and financing opportunities offered through these programs, participating communities leveraged an additional $2.8 million in funding on their own for community economic development projects. While participating in our entry-level coaching program, Cultivate WV, Montgomery and Smithers realized momentum-building success through access to $40,000 in seed funding for projects like farmers markets, public art, wayfinding, community events, and development of a trail system.

Six communities, Lewis County, Kingwood, Meadow River Valley, Monticello neighborhood in Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Parsons, graduated the intermediate planning program Blueprint Communities* with strategic plans in place. We also launched a new round of HubCAP, our flagship community economic development program, in six towns located in the Monongahela National Forest region: Cowen, Franklin, White Sulphur Springs, Elkins, Marlinton, and Petersburg.

Elkins

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. 

A core team led by Woodlands Development Group also participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Franklin

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Marlinton

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Petersburg

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

White Sulphur Springs

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies.

Charleston

A core team led by Crawford Holdings, LLC participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Huntington

Core teams led by Thundercloud, Inc. and the City of Huntington participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support community development projects located in Opportunity Zones.

Grafton

A core team led by Unleash Tygart, Inc participated in Opportunity Appalachia, receiving technical assistance to support a community development project located in an Opportunity Zone.

Leadership Development

As hundreds of people began to engage in our virtual training activities in 2020, we saw a critical opportunity to scale and deepen our impact. This year, The Hub team developed an accessible, virtual platform with options for self-guided and group learning activities as well as professional coaching.

Kickstart Communities is now the crux of our efforts to bring new people into the work and grow their leadership. These activities now form the foundational stages of a Community Leadership Development Pipeline to move motivated residents from seeing the challenges in their communities to proactively collaborating to resolve them.

Cowen

Residents participated in round 4 of The Hub’s capstone Communities of Achievement program with a focus on building local recreational economies. Read their community case study.