Newspaper article by the Rappahannock Times:
"Tappahannock Revitalization Plan Aired" by Laura Baker at St. Margaret's on June 3, 2009
Reported by Erin Kelley

Well over a hundred people gathered on June 3 to hear the presentation of a plan for the revitalization of Tappahannock. Recent VCU graduate Laura Baker, who recently received a master’s degree in regional planning, presented the results of her own study, conducted in concert with the Tappahannock Main Street Program.

Among the specific suggestions highlighted:

• Replace broken sections of sidewalk, install new sections where missing

• Bury overhead lines along Church Lane and Queen Street

• Install decorative brick crosswalks at strategic locations

• Install concrete sidewalks along nearby neighborhood streets

• Select and install a consistent style of streetscape furniture such as benches and trashcans

• Select and install a consistent style of pedestrian-scale and street lighting

• Install public art

Baker said these steps would go a long way toward creating a safe and attractive pedestrian-centered business district.

The study focused on a planning area consisting of properties fronting Queen Street, Prince Street and Church Lane (Rt. 17) from Hoskins Creek to the June Parker Marina. Baker highlighted strengths, weaknesses and opportunities existing for the specified area and suggested a number of potential solutions and strategies to move the town forward in a positive direction.

As a regional shopping destination, with high traffic volume, Tappahannock’s downtown region is primed for revitalization Baker said. She also noted the historic nature of the area and the small town atmosphere as qualities likely to help the region attract visitors once accentuated. However, she said the region’s current condition, including the run-down appearance of certain structures and storefronts, as well as a lack of design continuity, is limiting Tappahannock’s potential. She noted limited pedestrian access and a lack of shopping variety, as well as a general sense of visual clutter, as areas which the town would need to address to move forward with any recovery plan.

Baker advocated for the expansion of the commercial district through the recruitment of new businesses that have shown market potential. A survey of local residents conducted by Tappahannock Main Street suggests a public desire for more restaurants, specialty stores, bookshops and women’s and girls’ clothing shops in the region.

The same survey found 82 percent of respondents were strongly in favor of revitalizing downtown, and 75 percent favored the installation of a downtown riverfront or pier.

Baker agreed, suggesting any revitalization program should include enhanced and expanded public access to the Rappahannock River “thereby providing a natural attraction in the traditional business district.”

Baker said following through on the plan will require the efforts of a strongly motivated coalition of merchants, property owners, residents and officials

“The first step is getting everyone on board. Tappahannock has a lot of great assets including people,” Baker said. “The first step is to harness the energy that was on full display at the meeting.”

She suggested the Tappahannock Main Street organization hire an executive director and establish an effective fundraising strategy to move the plans forward.

Baker developed her proposal as a ten year plan.

“It’s definitely not something that is going to happen overnight,” Baker said, “and there will be setbacks along the way.”

However she maintained the suggestions contained within in her plan are achievable within the next decade.

Baker, who completed the study during her final months of graduate school, said she became interested in Tappahannock at the urging of Kyle Meyer, the head of Virginia’s statewide Main Street initiative. The Virginia Main Street program works to help localities coordinate efforts to revitalize downtown commercial districts using an incremental approach built around a community’s unique attributes.

“This was just perfect for me. It was such a great experience. I put everything I had learned in the classroom into action,” Baker said.