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Frederick, MD's 1.3-mile linear Carroll Creek Park has made Frederick's downtown a destination.
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Charleston, WV's Kanawha River attracts people to festivals, an outdoor amphitheater, two waterfront parks and downtown's shops and restaurants
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The lights of Chattanooga shine on the Tennessee River.
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Craddock Terry Hotel
The Craddock Terry Hotel in Lynchburg, Va., was once a shoe factory.
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Frederick, MD's 1.3-mile linear Carroll Creek Park has made Frederick's downtown a destination.
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Festivals, dinner cruises and waterfront restaurants draw people to Knoxville's riverfront.
For some communities in the Blue Ridge, downtown is more than shops, streets and sidewalks.
For folks who make up a downtown community – economic developers and business owners alike – the goal is simple: to create a downtown experience, a destination.
In the following eight towns and cities, bodies of water that flow through the heart of the community bring an added appeal to the shops, entertainment venues and eateries. Many have also been improved and renovated to liven ambiance, add attractions or make old traditions new again.
Revitalizing a downtown area is "a focused and concerted effort," says Angela Hamilton, executive director of Lynch's Landing in Lynchburg, Va. "We have a true passion for downtown and want local citizens and people traveling through to recognize everything downtown has to offer."
Such efforts certainly do not go unnoticed. Approached by the city of Greenville, S.C., to open a restaurant, Maverick Southern Kitchens restaurant group was "blown away by the beauty of the revitalized downtown area," says Laura Bright, director of marketing for the company. They soon opened High Cotton in a riverfront building complete with glass walls so every dining room boasts views of the water.
River, creek or lake, there's just something about the water that helps make these downtowns worth the journey.
Like many downtowns, Lynchburg once saw an exodus of sorts, with retailers moving their businesses to the suburbs and malls. But about 10 years ago, two organizations focused on revitalizing different aspects of downtown joined forces as Lynch's Landing, a member of Virginia's Main Street program.
Since then, the 50-block area located next to the James River has seen a boom as boutiques, restaurants, residential developments and other businesses made downtown their home. Notables include The Depot Grille, a seafood restaurant housed in a restored train station, and the Craddock Terry Hotel, a shoe factory turned boutique hotel.
"People are getting used to coming back to downtown," says Angela Hamilton, executive director of Lynch's Landing. "We're adding life back to the riverfront area with boat ramps for canoers and kayakers, and Riverfront Park is being enhanced with a permanent stage."
This waterfront stage attracts the 2,000 to 3,000 patrons of Friday Cheers, a concert-based summer event. And thanks to events such as these, businesses – even those located a few blocks from the river – find extra benefits in their downtown location.
Since Leecy Fink moved her bridal and formal wear shop Celebration from a strip mall to downtown three years ago, she has not regretted becoming part of the downtown community.
On the banks of the Chattahoochee River in Helen, Ga., sits Café International. And after 24 years, co-owner Bruce Markley still knows it was the perfect location for the business.
"I think people just love sitting on the river and eating outside," he says. "Being on the river has a lot of benefits. The view is great."
Many patrons of the restaurant, which serves sandwiches (reubens being the popular choice), salads and German fare, often choose to have lunch on the restaurant's deck overlooking the river while their children go tubing down the Chattahoochee, thanks to Cool River Tubing.
According to Debbie Gagliolo with the Alpine Helen/White County Convention & Visitors Bureau, this small north Georgia mountain town went through a boom in logging and gold rush years. After that died down, Helen served its residents with a single country store. But when the businessmen in 1968 turned to artist John Kollock for ideas on how to improve the ambiance of the town, he recalled the Bavarian buildings he saw while stationed in Germany during his military days.
Thus, Alpine Helen's Bavarian village along the river was born, with cobblestone alleyways and buildings sporting gingerbread trim, towers and other European architectural elements. In keeping with the German theme, the town hosts a large Oktoberfest event – complete with beer garden on the banks of the Chattahoochee – at the Chamber of Commerce Festhalle from mid-September through October. helenga.org
To see Chattanooga's downtown today, it would be hard to imagine that this city that grew up on the Tennessee River once forgot how to celebrate its heritage. But according to Jeff Pfitzer, interim executive director of RiverCity Company, that's exactly what happened.
The story of rediscovering that heritage begins in the early '80s, when the Moccasin Bend Task Force formed to consider uses for Moccasin Bend, a natural area across the river from downtown. They soon realized the challenge wasn't just that piece of land, but the 22 miles of waterfront and community that formed downtown Chattanooga.
"After public meetings, it was decided to create a new downtown nonprofit that would think about economic development." Pfitzer says. "RiverCity formed with a mission to make downtown the cultural, social and economic center of the region."
And gather they do. Businesses, attractions and restaurants that now create the downtown experience include Hunter Museum of American Art, the Tennessee Aquarium, Coolidge Park, Bluewater Grill and AT&T Park (home to the Chattanooga Lookouts baseball team). A more recent transformation, the 21st Century Waterfront Plan, brought pedestrian pathways that connect Hunter Museum, the aquarium and the river; public art installations and public parks. This summer, the recently anchored Delta Queen steamboat will open as a boutique hotel.
To further celebrate the regained traditions, the city hosts numerous waterfront events. Riverbend, an eight-day music festival on the river, attracts 100,000 visitors each June. Nightfall in Miller Plaza is a free Friday night concert series held during the summer.
"The inclusiveness," Pfitzer says – "that's part of the beauty of Chattanooga. We try to create opportunities for all members of the community." chattanoogafun.com
In Morgantown, a compact but vibrant downtown serves up a twofold experience: A glimpse at history through its revitalized buildings and a jaunt among an eclectic mix of local businesses.
The downtown area borders the West Virginia University campus, Deckers Creek and the Monongahela River. In the historic wharf district, old warehouses near the riverfront have been transformed into restaurants, offices, high-end lofts and retail businesses. Michael Murray and his business partners restored the district's old flour mill into the rustic and earthy Synergy Chop House and Saloon.
"We thought the building was awesome and the waterfront is beautiful," Murray says. "We wanted it to be a destination where people come and hang out and relax by the water."
Also in the wharf district, the Hazel Ruby McQuain Riverfront Park features an amphitheatre, historic train depot and walking trail. A new hotel and conference center is under construction.
As for the main section of downtown, "there's a little something for everybody to enjoy," says Terri Cutright, executive director of Main Street Morgantown.
Cutright says most downtown restaurants, boutiques and other venues are locally owned. The Metropolitan Theatre, modeled after its New York counterpart, presents live performances, music and film. A signature downtown event is Kid's Day in July, offering more than 70 activities for children. tourmorgantown.com
Before the 1970s, Greenville's downtown was a thriving locale, but a decline began when department stores moved to the suburbs. During the more than 30 years since then, the downtown has seen its share of changes geared toward bringing it back to life.
Greenville began hosting afternoon events to convince folks to linger downtown after work, including the concert series Downtown Alive, still held March through August each year. "After that, restaurants began to stay open later," says Downtown Development Manager Mary Douglas Hirsch, "and more people started coming back to downtown."
Several public/private partnerships have led to anchor projects that have helped sustain the downtown area and influence other businesses to fill in the vacant buildings. Included in those projects are the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Conference Center and The Peace Center for the Performing Arts.
But the real jewel of the downtown, says Hirsch, is the Reedy River. Business owners along the waterfront agree. As the city focused on making the river a focal point, Larkin's on the River General Manager Bob Munnich says it was a prime opportunity to take advantage of the location. Larkin's wears many hats – restaurant, caterer and event coordinator. The company hosts Rhythm on the River, a music event held Thursday evenings mid-May to September.
"Water seems to be soothing to people," says Carl Sobocinski, owner of The Lazy Goat, a Mediterranean restaurant. "It relaxes and evokes happier images."
The restaurant's main dining room features three walls of glass allowing views of the river and the Peace Center's amphitheatre.
In addition to restaurants, the river also features a riverwalk and Falls Park, where the addition of a pedestrian suspension bridge that replaced a vehicular bridge offers great views of the river and waterfall. greenvillesc.gov
What was once a concrete pad has been transformed into Frederick's Carroll Creek Park, a 1.3-mile mixed-use linear park that runs through the heart of downtown. But it's not the only reason people head to this revitalized area of town.
"Downtown Frederick has high-quality restaurants and retail shops," says Richard Griffin, director of economic development. "Carroll Creek helps make downtown a destination as opposed to a brief stop."
Part of a 30-year project to completely renovate downtown following a devastating flood in 1976, the city implemented a multi-million-dollar plan for flood control and to reclaim and develop the land along the creek. Now, this area – part of the historic district – is highlighted with dining, retail, pristine landscaping, recreational opportunities and special events.
Adding to the aesthetic appeal of the park is public art by local artists, including ironwork in the water features, mosaics and trompeloi (or trompe l'oeil, a style of artwork that plays with visual perception) paintings. The park features a number of bridges: a single pylon suspension bridge, stone arch bridge and an iron bridge with handcrafted railings. Community Bridge, with a trompeloi mural, brings thousands of visitors each year to view the images painted on the structure.
Carroll Creek's amphitheater becomes a major component of several downtown events. Alive at 5, a concert series, is held May through September, and In the Street, a music festival with bands, food and art, occurs each October. fredericktourism.org
In downtown Knoxville, not only do the shores of Fort Loudon Lake draw a crowd, but as Linda Milan, senior sales manager for the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation explains, activities abound on the waters as well. Part of the Tennessee River, this 14,600-acre lake is home to waterfront restaurants and residential developments, a marina and hot spots for boat races and dinner cruises.
"There's not just one thing that makes it special," says Milan. "The openness of it, being able to walk or ride your bike near it... it's just relaxing."
Michele Hummel, director of Downtown Knoxville, agrees. She enjoys spending time on the lake in a houseboat.
"It's almost something calming," she says. "I love going to the waterfront."
Improvements to the waterfront have been made over the years, especially on the north end. Restaurants such as locally owned Calhoun's offer outdoor dining, Volunteer Landing hosts numerous lakefront events and two boats – the Star of Knoxville and the Volunteer Princess – run cruises and other special events. Currently, plans are in the works for the south waterfront, including a riverwalk along the shoreline, parks and entertainment opportunities.
Downtown activities include Boomsday, a fireworks festival on Labor Day weekend; Dragon Boat Festival, a fundraiser for the Knox Area Rescue Mission in June; and Wine on the Water, a music and wine festival that raises funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in October. knoxville.org
Mostly used for recreational purposes, downtown Charleston's Kanawha River is a happening place. According to Patty Pitrolo, president of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, no businesses sit next to the river, which keeps the shoreline's paths and parks green and attractive.
Haddad Riverfront Park not only provides the ideal launching spot for boaters or a place to relax by the water, but also is a popular venue for concerts, family gatherings and other functions. Each summer, the park's 2,500-seat amphitheater hosts a Live on the Levee concert series. In June, FestivALL, a 10-day, citywide arts festival includes music and other performances at Haddad. Another waterfront park, Magic Island, offers outdoor movies on Wednesdays during the summer and other activities.
Across from the river, downtown offerings include more than 30 restaurants, a civic center, municipal auditorium and a large indoor mall. Renaissance Village, part of historic downtown, features quaint shops. The city created an Art Walk booklet that suggests art shops for folks to check out.
Pitrolo says that a riverfront project is currently in the works, which includes ideas for developing more docks and installing a canopy over the amphitheater at Haddad to provide more shade.
"As with any community, we want to evolve," she says. "We're looking for ways to make the river even more attractive and usable." charlestonwv.com