MILL DISTRICT RENEWAL
CREATED BY TOM:
ABOVE: 2015-16 social media commercial for the Mill District revitalization initiative in Fredericksburg, VA.
BELOW RIGHT: Urban Land Institute infographic utilized in campaign to secure the needed rezoning approval for the Mill District project.
Mill District Revitalization Development
Fredericksburg, Virginia is regarded as “America’s most historic city,” which is apt considering its rich Civil War and Colonial history (it is George Washington’s hometown, complete with a number of remaining Washington family homes).
Unfortunately, one on the primary entrance corridors into the city’s celebrated Historic District has remained dilapidated, unsightly and unwelcoming despite the good intentions of and numerous studies done by the local government. Fortunately, it has been ripe for private sector redevelopment, revitalization and preservation for the past few years.
Ed Whelan, a lifelong city resident and real estate developer, committed himself to investing millions of dollars into a corridor-wide revitalization initiative. Upon completion of an important first phase (restoration of the city’s Old Silk Mill), Ed sought a major rezoning approval from the local city council to put his investment and revitalization plans into redevelopment action.
As illustrated in these city council minutes from late November, 2015, and despite his best efforts over the course of two previous years, the neighboring residents were still apprehensive and unsupportive (based upon a lack of information and even misinformation from a small but vocal anti-change crowd of the sort often found in many localities).
Without a proactive leader within the local government to get in front of the opportunity and help advocate for the revitalization initiative (another unfortunate commonality in many municipal governments), and even though two of the seven elected council members were otherwise supportive, every time Ed went before the city council for approval – from early 2014 through 2015 – he was met with “we like it, but not enough to approve.”
A general lack of understanding of how increases in density pay for all major revitalization projects persisted among a majority of council members, and without any other specific governmental guidance or advancing engagement from elected officials otherwise supporting this initiative, Ed could really only randomly shift the density proposed within the project, effectively guessing what might be accepted from council meeting to council meeting.
So, Ed once again had his rezoning application tabled during that November, 2015 council meeting, and until the following January. Frustrated, he then retained Tom’s consulting services in a last ditch effort to turn public perception and the council majority, with just six weeks until the final reconsideration and council vote.
Tom worked with Ed to repackage his application and launched a comprehensive campaign to inform and counter the misinformation circulating among the neighboring residents, council members and general public; he advertised density-related facts from the Urban Land Institute (as shown above) and revitalization case studies from numerous sources for local consumption. This successfully secured citizen support (including from those who had just spoken in opposition to the project at that most previous council meeting). He then enticed and helped these newly supportive citizens petition city council members directly with their support.
Tom utilized social media marketing to inform and influence those who in turn would give the council members the backing they needed to approve the rezoning (to include the projects neighbors, other local citizens, the local media and non-elected local government officials). The “transformation” video made by Tom, above in the left column, was among numerous web-based infomercials and infographics deployed to make this effort a success.
Just six weeks following Ed’s decision to retain Tom’s services and utilize his expertise, the city council voted unanimously to approve the project (read here). A glowing editorial by the local newspaper followed. This is but one example from the many commercial rezoning initiatives in which Tom was hired by real estate developers to ensure approval.
© 2018 THOS. M. BYRNES