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Local grass roots effort gathers steam
Maggie G. Hall

A grass roots main street revitalization in Tappahannock is gaining steam, it seems. More than 100 people showed up last week at a presentation on the findings of a graduate student who studied the town and the best plans for revitalization.

The presentation was just one part of a multifaceted effort that has been ongoing for three years to revitalize the area of the town nestled between Hoskins Creek and June Parker Marina.

The student, Laura Baker of Virginia Commonwealth University, grew up in Stafford County and had never been to Tappahannock before visiting there for the beginning of her project about five months ago.

"I loved the town," she said. "It seems liked a good opportunity to apply my classroom skills to the real world."

That real world in Tappahannock includes a history downtown that is tucked away from the main thoroughfares. Combine that with a desire for more business growth in the historic district and the desire to rehabilitate several historic spaces for public use, and you have a thesis project for Baker.

Her study included a survey in which 231 people were polled about community and business enhancements.

The presentation she made was posted on the committee's Web site at www.tappahannockmainstreet.org on June 9.

"My interest lies in revitalization," she explained. She said the June 3 meeting to reveal the fruits of her labor went “really well, we had to pull out extra seating."

The Tappahannock Main Street Program's acting chair is an Petersburg architect who was drawn to Tappahannock by his nearby family. Forrest French said that there were "a lot of people I hadn't seen before" at the presentation last week, a good sign that the effort is gaining momentum.

Among the priorities for the group are continued work on the historic Daw Theatre and Beale Sanctuary, which is slated to become a community arts center.

Added to those goals is a project that could be ready for public consumption this summer. There is a renewed focus on developing a farmers market in the historic area, which committee member and town councilman Peter Trible said isn't a new concept.

"There was traditionally a farmers market on Cross Street between the Circuit Court and the Dillard and Katona building," he explained. At some point, those vendors and crowds were drawn away when a livestock sale began being held on Airport Road.

"There have been discussions now to return [a market] to Cross Street," Trible said, "and it would probably be in the street."

He indicated that the idea had always been on the table, but the May beginning of the Warsaw Farmer's Market spurned the project forward by example.

"It's now viable because of that success," Trible said.

As far as competition across the river goes, he said that he thinks bigger picture in regards to the market and overall revitalization of Tappahannock.

"It's a win-win for all of us," Trible said. "We're all part of this region. We're all part of what was originally Rappahannock County."

With a background in adaptive reuse architecture, French said his interest in the project three years ago was a natural extension of his desire to revitalize the historic area of town.

French said anyone is invited to participate in the project by attending and contributing to the committee's monthly meetings, held on the third Tuesdays at Water and Queen Studio.

The Warsaw revitalization project was scheduled for an early June public unveiling.