When the U.S. Senate was on recess for a week last month, Virginia’s Sen. Mark Warner and his staff went on a three-day tour of Southside, Southwest and Central Virginia to see how communities across the commonwealth are faring.
Beginning in Salem and traveling down to Martinsville and Henry County and over to Pittsylvania County and Danville, the senator wound up his trip in Lynchburg where, almost speechless, his two-word reaction to what he saw taking place was simply “Wow. Wow!”
He uttered those two words as he walked onto the stage of the recently reopened and restored Academy of Music Theatre, but they could have been his reaction to just about anything he observed in his tour of historic downtown Lynchburg or in his meeting and discussion with business and civic leaders at the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance.
On a tour of the theater complex, home of the Academy Center of the Arts, Warner commented to Academy Executive Director Geoff Kershner that the last time he had been in the old 1905 Beaux Arts structure, it was in far different shape than it is today in all its restored glory.
“It was pretty awful, but the fact that the community had this vision and it’s become a reality,” he said, “the fact that $14 million in private donations helped make this possible, it’s pretty cool.”
He also stressed to the local civic and business leaders with him the importance of the Academy to the region’s economic development efforts. Businesses, he said, see a community working together on a common vision, making grand visions a reality, as a community where they want to locate, expand and grow. And Lynchburg, he stressed, is doing just that, not only with the Academy of Music, but with the recently reopened Virginian Hotel, the Craddock Terry Hotel, construction of the Bluffwalk and the ongoing major revitalization projects downtown.
With the looming acquisition of the 1910-era City Auditorium by Lockn’ Festival founder David Frey and his plans to renovate it into a downtown music venue factored into the mix, it’s obvious to Warner, as well as any outside observer, that Lynchburg and its downtown are on the cusp of something great.
And that, as Warner quite correctly pointed out, is a key component of a successful regional economic development renaissance, too. Businesses want to locate in communities that are looking to the future as the source of their best days, and Lynchburg certainly is.