A pop-up event this week in the River District generated interest for a co-working space downtown, and owner Lenny Keesee hopes to sign a lease for the old Bobby Carlson studio on Main Street in September.
Between 40 and 45 people visited the pop-up space at 312 Main St. in Danville’s River District, and more than half of them requested sign-up packets by Friday morning.
“Several people told me that September would be better for them to sign leases,” Keesee said from behind the built-in desk in the old photographer’s studio. “That works out fine for us so we can make some changes.”
Co-working spaces are real offices built for entrepreneurs and freelance workers.
Keesee plans to add a full kitchen, move the conference room area downstairs, and add some partitions to the upstairs offices for a slightly more private area.
There is a similar option available in Ringgold through the Dan River Business Development Center, called Southside CoShare.
“I don’t have any problem with competition,” Executive Director Ralph Hogg told the Register & Bee on Friday. “I think there’s a need for that type of service, especially in the River District.”
Southside CoShare offers more support services than River District’s current plans, but does not have the “prime location” that River District Coworking’s downtown office offers. Southside also offers light industrial space for research, development and production of goods.
In addition to the co-working possibilities, Keesee is working on a hybrid membership for photographers to use the studio after business hours and during the weekends. He is also toying with the idea of renting the space out for parties and events. Both groups offer a variety of options for each person’s co-working needs.
“We’re optimistic,” Keesee said Friday morning. “If not here, maybe there’s another place that we need to be in.”
Keesee and Hogg define co-working as the use of a working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers.
“I feel like if he can’t make it successful, nobody will,” Hogg said with confidence. “It’s a necessity for Danville. I wish him well with that.”
After Lenny Keesee was told he could no longer work from home, he started looking into creating a co-working space in Danville with his wife, Lacey.
“It’s the bridge between folks running a business out of their home and going into your own dedicated office space,” Keesee said. “It allows entrepreneurs a tremendous amount of additional runway.
Keesee was with a company that allowed him to work out of his house until the company changed hands. He was given the option of moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, or leaving the company.
That’s what made him start looking into a co-working space as a compromise between working from home and working in an office.
He ended up leaving the company before he could pitch the idea, but he still wants to help others.
Co-working spaces are real offices built for entrepreneurs and freelance workers.
“They aren’t committing to a full lease and all the other expenses that go into your own office,” he said. “It’s all the entrepreneurs working together out of a shared environment, and helping each other out.”
Entrepreneurs can rent exactly the kind of space they need — whether it’s a seat at a conference table, a dedicated desk or their own office.
Working with Danville’s Economic Development Office and the Industrial Development Authority, the couple planned a pop-up event next week to gauge interest in the project.
The free pop-up event will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday in the former Bobby Carlson studio, 312 Main St, Suite 200 in Danville.
“We’re excited about this opportunity, Danville Economic Development Assistant Director Cori Teague Bobe said. “We feel that co-working spaces really add to the entrepreneurial spirit that’s developing within our community. This will give entrepreneurs space to gather and share ideas, and expand and market their companies throughout the region.
“A lot of older businesses have a stigma against working from home,” Keesee said. “We got some traction and some interest, so we figured we’d see if we could do it.”
They hope to have 15 to 20 people sign up to be founding members, at which point they will sign a lease that will suit the needs of their members. Keesee said he hopes to sign a lease at one of the IDA’s properties downtown.
“I think we’re getting close to finding our charter members,” Keesee said. “If we don’t, we’ll probably drop back and re-evaluate and see if we can do another pop-up event and see what we can do.
“We’ll have a conference table set up, a few small offices, etc all free of charge,” Keesee explained. “We want to show people in Danville what co-working is all about.”
A taco-tequila bar, a grocery store and a brewpub will be opening on Craghead Street’s 500 block, owner Rick Barker announced Monday.
Fresh, local ingredients and a choice of indoor and outdoor dining options will be part of each new business.
Stephan Parry, managing partner of the Parry Restaurant Group, plans to open a taco-tequila restaurant/bar this fall, featuring 10 6-inch taco options and more than 100 brands of tequila.
It will be located in the Hughes Building at 530 Craghead St.
The restaurant group has 13 restaurants throughout Virginia, including two other taco-tequila bars: El Jefe Taqueria Garaje in Lynchburg and Tuco’s Taqueria Garaje in Roanoke.
“We’re glad we attracted Steve to the River District,” Barker said. “He’s at the top of his game … with an ability to develop a menu to a local market; it’s very localized and offers quality food and atmosphere.”
The interior will be themed after the Mexican holiday, “Day of the Dead,” which honors the lives of family members who have died.
Plans call for seating for 54 diners inside, with additional seating for 66 outside.
“We’ll be able to use the outside dining most of the year,” Barker said. “We’ll have gas heaters and fire pits.”
Barker said they have tried to tie the opening of the new businesses — and the apartments above— to the completion of the sidewalk renovations the city is doing and the parking lots being built by the Industrial Development Authority.
A new market also plans open next door to the taco-tequila bar.
Steve DelGiorno — who owns the 616 Farm to Table restaurant on North Main Street as well as the Chatham Public House and Le Petite Rebelle in Chatham — will open the Craghead Market, featuring healthy, organic and minimally processed food options. Fresh baked goods, fresh flowers, staple grocery items, fresh produce and meats, beer, wine, dairy and frozen foods will be carried, as well as prepared foods and salads from a 14-foot salad bar.
Delivery to River District locations will be available.
“It will all about food,” DelGiorno said. “It will be a scaled-down version of Whole Foods or Weaver Street Market in Hillsboro, North Carolina.”
Bulk foods, such as different types of flours and granolas, will be available by the pound.
“It will have everything you need to go home and cook a great restaurant-quality meal,” DelGiorno said.
The third project announced Monday is a partnership between Barker and DelGiorno to open Preservation Ale and Smokehouse at 518 Craghead St. — the former Gibson’s Dry Prizery — in 2018.
The restaurant will serve up southern barbecue with some twists, incorporating Nashville-, Memphis- and Korean-style flavors, DelGiorno said.
An on-site brewery will have its own seating behind double doors leading from the restaurant, so people sampling the brews will be surrounded by the equipment making those brews, Barker said. The brewpub will offer rotating taps of lagers, ales and specialty beers.
“The building was slated for demolition, but we offered to buy it and restore it,” Barker said. “It’s the oldest tobacco prizery downtown.”
Renovations to the historic, 1871 building are set to begin this fall, including the addition of a courtyard for outside dining.
DelGiorno said he has been asked if Danville needs another brew pub, in addition to Ballad Brewing on Craghead Street and 2 Witches Winery and Brewing Company on Trade Street.
“We did a tremendous amount of research into this,” DelGiorno said. “The data says the more breweries clustered together, the more successful they become.”
Multiple breweries attract travelers in a two-hour drive time range around the cluster, he said.
“One won’t attract travelers, but if there are more, they become a destination,” DelGiorno said. “It’s like the food truck rodeo they had — 4,000 people came to that, a lot of them from out of town.”
Seven new high-end apartments over the Hughes and Venable buildings will also be ready shortly, Barker said. All have different layouts, with one or two bedrooms and baths, as well as a variety of finishing touches, like different cabinet styles in each of the kitchens.
Additional commercial spaces will be available.
Barker and DelGiorno have several projects in the works beyond this block of Craghead Street, including a partnership at the soon-to-be-completed Crema & Vine in the former gas station at 1009 Main St., and projects they are working on individually.
DelGiorno said the projects being done in the River District — by all of the development groups currently working on various buildings — will help revitalize the whole city.
“The more we transform the River District, the better Danville will be,” DelGiorno said.
Corrie Teague Bobe, assistant director of economic development for the city, said city officials are pleased with how the revitalization of the River District is coming along.
“We’re excited to see the 500 block of Craghead Street come back to life,” Bobe said. “These three businesses are unique and the concepts were requested from visitors to the River District — both from here and from other places — over the past few years.”
A new trolley bus route is coming to Danville next month.
Starting Aug. 4, the service will be available 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every Saturday and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. the first Friday of each month.
The Mainline trolley bus route will run from Ballou Park to the River District (including the Danville Science Center/Community Market/Crossing at the Dan) to North Main Street at Moana Place.
It will include 40 stops along the route, said Danville Transportation Director Marc Adelman.
Fares will be $1 per ride with a half-fare discount for seniors and disabled people until noon on Saturdays, Adelman said. Children 12 and under accompanied by an adult will ride for free.
Signs will be at each stop displaying boarding times for that particular location, Adelman said. The trolley bus will hit each bus stop location every 45 minutes, he said.
The route’s schedule — based on responses from a survey — is geared toward shopping and other activities in the River District downtown, Adelman said.
“It helps provide shopping opportunities and recreational activities,” he said, adding that it could increase activity in the area around the Community Market.
The route will complement shopping and dining in the River District, he added.
“This is a common service provided by many transit systems across the country,” Adelman said.
It will also provide transportation in the North Main Street area including the North Theatre, 616 Farm to Table, and Moon River Thai.
Danville City Councilman James Buckner introduced the idea and a subcommittee was formed. Buckner — who chaired the subcommittee — credited its members for helping make the idea a reality. The members were Linwood Duncan, Earl Reynolds, Alexis Ehrhardt, Debbie Flinn and Ernecia Coles.
The route follows Danville’s old Mainline from years ago, Buckner said.
“It could really serve the community in so many different ways,” Buckner said.
The trolley bus will be one of two trolleys that the city has. They were renovated last year and one has been used as a spare for Danville’s fixed-route bus service and for special occasions for reserved rides for 10 or more people, Adelman said.
Bus trolley features include new flooring, vintage lights and a front destination sign.
Adelman said the new route may not cost the city anything, depending on ridership volume. The city will receive state and federal funding to subsidize the service’s operating cost, he said. Cost for operating it will be $30 per hour of operation.
The trolley buses each have a capacity of 26.
Other services coming next month include expanded bus service to Goodwill Industries and Centra Danville Medical Center on Aug. 1, and a new Averett Cougar Express bus route.
The former Ritz Theater building at 534 Spring St. has been purchased with an eye toward renovating the structure for a new life in the River District.
Agostino Pugliese and his wife, Brandi — also owners of Dell’Anno’s Pizza Kitchen on Main Street — purchased the building for $26,500 in May, according to city records.
Pugliese said he has no firm plans for the building, other than to secure the site and “see what the options are.”
He said he wants to find a good use for the building after he fixes water damage to the interior.
“Maybe in the fall we’ll decide what the best solution for it is,” Pugliese said.
Most recently the building has been used as a church, but originally it housed the city’s only black-only theater. Pugliese said the original theater seats are still in the building, though the stage and other areas have suffered water damage.
He declined a request for a tour of the interior from the Register & Bee, saying it needs repairs before tours can be arranged.
The 5,680-square-foot building most recently housed the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, which owned the building. While still owned by the church, Corrie Teague Bobe, assistant director of the city’s economic development department, said she was able to tour the building.
“It’s a really neat building,” Bobe said. “It still has the stadium theater-style seating and you can see where the projection room was.”
Bobe said she was not approached by the Puglieses prior to their purchase.
“I’m as interested in finding out what will be done as anyone,” Bobe said.
Remembering the Ritz Theater
Danville residents remember the days when it housed the Ritz Theatre, long before the civil rights movement and desegregation happened.
Fred Motley — a Danville storyteller, actor and theater director — said he remembers the Ritz Theater, but in bits and flashes, since he was very young at the time.
“I remember that it was the all-black theater and that, like all theaters, it was always dark,” Motley said. “My mom would check the newspaper to see what was playing there.”
Motley said he remembers the Rialto Theater better, because he went there when he was a little older.
“It was where the school board building is now; blacks sat upstairs in the balcony and whites sat downstairs,” Motley said. “In the summer, we’d collect bottle caps to get in free. On Sundays all the kids got together after church to go to the movies there.”
Kirby Wright — founder/owner of Negril Inc., which serves residents with intellectual or mental disabilities, and W&W Luxury Limousine Service — said he fondly remembers the Ritz Theater, where he worked during high school.
“I used to be the projectionist. I worked there from ninth to 12th grade,” Wright said, and laughed. “My mother made me go to college; I didn’t want to … I was making $65 a week, and teachers only made $45 a week. I didn’t want to leave it.”
But his mother won that argument, Wright said.
Wright laughed again as he talked about becoming the projectionist.
He started off working at the theater part-time, taking tickets at the door and moving up to working the concession counter. Wright said he became friendly with the projectionist — who started to teach him how the equipment worked.
One night, Wright said, the projectionist and manger of the theater got into an argument, and the projectionist walked out in the middle of a movie, with the reel running.
The manager was in a panic, Wright said, until Wright told him he could run the projector.
“I got the job full time and I was only about 15,” Wright said.
The theater offered more than movies all week long. At least one night a month, there was a live performance.
“A lot of good artists came and performed,” Wright said. “They were real nice shows, stage shows with big names, and local artists. I’d shine the spotlight on them.”
There were five theaters downtown then, Wright said.
“We couldn’t go the Capitol Theater at all; it was only for whites,” Kirby said. “There was the Rialto, where we had to sit in the balcony, and the Dan Theater and Virginia Theater, where we had to sit in back.”
Motley, too, said blacks didn’t bother looking up what was playing at the Capitol Theater.
“You knew you wouldn’t be able to go,” Motley said.
The Ritz was considered “all-black,” though whites were not specifically forbidden from attending the movies and shows. Wright said no whites ever came to the theater that he was aware of.
Both Wright and Motley said they were pleased someone was planning to restore the former theater.
“But it does bring back memories buried a long time ago,” Motley said.
The Danville bike share program officially opened Friday with a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The Danville Rides Bike Share docking stations will consist of 10 locks and five bikes, allowing ride
rs ages 18 and older to travel from one unit to another without having to make a return trip, according to a news release from Danville Parks and Recreation.
Stations will be located at the Biscuitville, Main Street Plaza, Crossing at the Dan and Dan Daniel Park Riverwalk Trailheads and in front of the Danville Train Station.
The Crossing at the Dan and train station trailhead lockers opened Friday.
Bikes come outfitted with a retractable locking cable to allow riders to secure the bike to any fixed object during the rental period, the release stated.
Bikes can be accessed through the Zagster mobile app available for iPhone and Android. Bikes have a number that needs to be entered into the app to unlock the docked bike. Payment can be made through the app.
The first hour is free. Each additional hour costs $3.
The rental period ends when the bike is returned to any of the five locker locations.
Another new business is close to opening in the River District: Cottontail Weddings & Events.
Owner Matthew Switick said he expects the construction — which is in its finishing phase, with air conditioning being installed last week — to be completed in the next few weeks and for the doors to open in early August.
The 3,600-square-foot space at 600 Craghead St. does have a historic feel, with original wood floors, beams and columns. However, elegant touches are being added, like large chandeliers, lighting in the floor around the columns and other decorative touches.
The space will include seating for about 150 people, with room left for dancing and live music, Switick said.
There is also a dressing room and warming kitchen.
“We’ll have the tables, chairs and tablecloths; people would bring in their own caterers, who would bring in food and dishes,” Switick said.
Switick said he has worked in the hospitality industry before and was looking for a place to open his own business in North Carolina.
“I’ve been thinking about it since college,” he said. “I always wanted my own business, but wasn’t sure what kind.”
When he married his wife, Shelly, four years ago, they held the event at Starlight Meadow in Burlington, North Carolina.
“A friend there really got us excited about the possibility of doing something similar,” Switick said.
They moved to the Raleigh area and he looked for property where he could open a barn-type event place like Starlight Meadow — but couldn’t find the right place.
Instead a family friend — Shelly is a Danville native — recommended they look at the River District, and in December 2015 toured the space on Craghead Street.
“I knew it was the right place,” Switick said.
And with Ballad Brewery next door, he said he is excited about the possibility of working with the brewery for some events.
Switick said he found the city’s economic development department a big help, particularly Corrie Teague Bobe, the assistant director of the department.
Bobe said Switick did not qualify for historic tax credit help in renovating the building since that is reserved for building owners/developers. Instead, the city was able to provide a $20,000 River District Enhancement Grant to help cover the costs of making the space right for Switick’s business.
“The grant reimburses business owners for capital improvements they make,” Bobe said.
A signed performance agreement for the grant requires Switick invest $60,000 in capital improvements, have two full-time employees and to stay in the location for at least seven years.
The department doesn’t just hand over the money even with the signed agreement, Bobe said. Instead owners have to turn in receipts proving what they invested before any money changes hands.
Bobe said she is looking forward to Cottontail Weddings & Events openings.
“It’s going to be a beautiful space,” Bobe said. “It’s the type of space we get asked about often for weddings and special events people want to have in the River District.”
Ross Fickenscher, one of the partners who developed 600 Craghead St., confirmed all of the commercial spaces in the building have now been leased and the apartments on the upper floors are filling fast.
“We’re excited about [Cottontail Weddings & Events] and think it will do well,” Fickenscher said.
Two new projects were approved by the River District Design Commission recently, and while details have not been released, this adds two more properties to those under development in the district.
The 9,900-square-foot former warehouse at 534 Bridge St. has been approved for signage, but only for size and placement. The drawings submitted by Jeff Bond, of Solex Architecture, did not disclose the wording that will be used, including the name of the business.
Bond did not return calls asking for details on the project.
Corrie Teague Bobe, assistant director of Danville’s economic development department, said the commission also approved removal of some vinyl on the exterior of the building and replacing it with metal.
According to city records, the building is owned by Thomas and Margaret Hardy, of Danville.
Another building getting attention is at 301 Lynn St., which is being developed by Earthmark Development — the same group that renovated the Smiths Seed Building next door.
The building has been ordered to be demolished, but Stephen Staats, of Earthmark Development, was at the commission meeting to get permission to turn the property into a private parking lot for an upcoming project. A second building on the property — a former prizery — will not be demolished.
The brick and granite from the demolished building will be used to create walls for the parking lot, Renee Burton, senior planner for the community development department, said.
She also noted that Earthmark Development was applying for historic tax credits on the project, and the state Department of Historic Resources required the “footprint” of the building to be used for enclosing the lot, as well as the reuse of original materials.
Staats did not return a call from the Register & Bee for information about the project.
Bicycles should be available for rent in the River District and other parts of Danville later this month, according to city officials.
The bikes have arrived and are being assembled at Bicycle Medic.
Danville Parks and Recreation Director Bill Sgrinia said he hopes the city’s new bike share program will be up and running — with bicycles available at locations in the River District and other areas — in about two weeks.
There will be five racks holding five bikes each to start, Sgrinia said. Rack locations will be at Main Street Plaza, the Crossing at the Dan (with two racks), Dan Daniel Memorial Park trailhead, and the area behind Biscuitville on Riverside, he said.
The first hour of use per rental will be free, with a possible charge of $3 per subsequent hour, Sgrinia said. The free first hour offers a strong incentive for people downtown to be physically active. The idea is to promote health and wellness, Sgrinia said.
“We want to encourage people to use the bikes,” Sgrinia said.
Users would create an account and rent the bikes by entering a credit card number through an app, “Zagster.” It can also be downloaded online at zagster.com.
The app will show where bike stations are located.
Danville City Council approved the proposal for the bike share program in February. The annual cost for the program will be about $45,000.
The cost for the program’s first year was proposed to be paid for with a transfer from unallocated money from the special revenue fund.
City officials are seeking sponsorships to help pay for the program, Sgrinia said. Anyone interested in being a sponsor can call Sgrinia at (434) 799-5200.
City Manager Ken Larking said the stations still need to be installed. The city has one or two sponsors for the program so far, Larking said.
The program is not expected to pay for the service, Larking said. City officials hope sponsors pay the bulk of the cost.
“This is a nice addition to our city, the River District and the Riverwalk Trail,” Larking said.
A report released in May recommended safe and continuous bicycle routes and improved conditions for pedestrians in the River District.
EPR, PC in Charlottesville recommended ways for Danville to enhance safety and ease of travel for pedestrians and bicyclists downtown.
The report, presented to City Council in May, proposes changes including traffic signal equipment to guide bicyclists and pedestrians through signaled intersections and bicycle commuter stations featuring parking locations, racks and bicycle maintenance stands providing tools for basic repairs.
The report also recommends safe and continuous bicycle routes in the River District, with “wayfinding” information to major destinations.
“It’s to make walking and biking in downtown Danville more safe,” Drew Draper, principal planner with EPR, said of the report’s recommendations in May. “It’s to complement what the city is already doing.”
The report also recommended public education activities and programs to develop a “more robust” bicycle and pedestrian culture in the city. They could include teaching skills and etiquette for safe bicycle travel and enhance rider safety and confidence.
City residents told consultants Danville has “an underdeveloped bicycle and pedestrian culture,” with drivers “failing to respond safely to bicycle and pedestrian travelers,” according to the report. Also, residents who provided comment expressed a perception of “limited community energy directed to encouraging activities such as bicycling, walking and running,” according to consultants.
EPR also found there is limited “wayfinding” information available to attract visitors to trails, or trail users to other River District destinations.