New group has big hopes for Christiansburg
CHRISTIANSBURG — The founders of the recently formed Downtown Christiansburg Inc., have what sounds like a simple goal for the initiative.
“We want people to think, ‘Hey, let’s go to downtown Christiansburg and check out what’s going on,’ ” said group member David Franusich.
The three-person partnership, which also includes Franusich’s wife, Christina O’Connor, and friend David Verde, realizes, however, that achieving that goal will be a more complex process.
Franusich said the group’s concept was born when he and his wife were returning from the Blacksburg Farmers Market one Saturday last summer. He said that after spending time in the active atmosphere of downtown Blacksburg, the silence as they drove home through downtown Christiansburg created an “aha” moment.
Around the same time, the couple ran into Verde at Blacksburg’s Steppin’ Out street festival. The three photographers knew of one another’s work but were surprised to learn they also lived in Christiansburg. The trio agreed they liked living in the town but also shared similar feelings about its lack of an exciting downtown.
“There’s not consistent life there. There’s not a vibrancy to it,” Franusich said.
Verde, who spends much of his time in the downtown area working at Sapphire Ballroom and Dance Center, said he’d seen firsthand the potential for activity in the area during events or whenever the Montgomery County Courthouse had something going on, but he said those times were too infrequent.
The group believes Christiansburg’s great strength is the large population of full-time residents who live within walking distance of the downtown area.
“They have access to do it — there is just nothing to access yet,” Verde said.
The group believes the key to changing that is uniting all the parties involved, which is one of their top priorities.
“I think [our goal is] to bring a consistent voice for downtown, working with the merchants and the town and the property owners and the business owners and really just kind of bring everybody together,” Franusich said.
That consistent voice is something Montgomery County Tourism Director Lisa Bleakley said could be beneficial to both the town and county overall.
Bleakley said she could she such a group serving to “connect the dots” between parties, such as vacant property owners and financing organizations, to bring more productivity to the area.
One of the main connections Downtown Christiansburg Inc., hopes to help facilitate is between downtown and the citizens that aren’t necessary stakeholders.
To assist in this effort, the group has formed an online survey, available at their website downtownchristiansburg.org.
So far, the group said the nearly 100 responses have been overwhelmingly positive, especially from many of the town’s longtime residents.
“We’ve already seen that a lot of people that have lived here for several years, several decades, are like ‘Yes, please, do something. We want stuff to do, places to go and shop and eat,’ ” O’Connor said.
O’Connor added that bringing in merchants who could fill this desire could help achieve a more-balanced downtown.
“We want to have that good balance of live, work and play,” she said.
The group is not solely concerned with locating such venues downtown. They also believe it’s important such businesses are given proper placement in buildings, with “live” and “work” areas occupying upper floors — leaving the “fun” venues accessible for pedestrians.
While added venues and increased foot traffic would be a welcome sight to downtown Christiansburg Coffee Depot owner Tacy Newell, she said she’s seen similar past efforts fizzle out over time.
“Everything just took a little bit longer, and a lot of funding opportunities became less and more competitive,” she said.
Newell said she believes winning the encouragement of the residents who have seen efforts fail in the past will be one of the group’s main challenges.
The group is aware of this challenge and hopes the fact that none of the three has any personal stake on the line helps to win over Christiansburg residents.
“We have no personal agenda based on property that we own,” Verde said.
The group said they are also aware of the challenge of gaining funds to run such an organization. Because each of the three holds a full-time job, they said they have no full-time person “pounding the pavement, looking for grants.”
Finding that time outside of their work and personal lives is something Christiansburg Town Councilman Steve Huppert said he sees as the group’s largest challenge.
Though the group has yet to make an official presentation to the council, Huppert said he would be all for increasing activities in the downtown area.
Though the Downtown Christiansburg group has many lofty goals, its members realize it must start with smaller ones.
The group said that within a year, they hope to hold at least one formal Downtown Christiansburg Inc., event and hope to begin the process of bringing the Christiansburg Farmers Market, currently located on Radford Street, to a location more central to downtown.
For the most immediate future, however, the group is concentrating on getting to know the people of the town.
“We really want to focus on building relationships, …to say ‘Hey, we can really pull together and make downtown Christiansburg a really vibrant place,’ ” Franusich said.
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