As pandemic measures ease and visitors return, the Leesburg Town Council discussed several downtown revitalization measures during a meeting Monday night.
The council considered changing the existing mural policy and whether or not to adopt the Virginia Main Street program.
The council on Tuesday voted to add Leesburg Arts and Cultural District branding to signage and banners across Leesburg, as well as install a more robust wayfinding system. This wayfinding system is to include sidewalk brick inlays in places where other signs aren’t feasible. The vote was unanimous, with Councilwoman Fox absent.
The new signage will be installed by January 2023, according to town staff. The town has already set aside $10,000 in its budget for the measure.
The proposed change to the mural policy, however, was met with some resistance on Monday. Currently, murals are only permitted on public buildings and require vetting from the town’s Commission on Public Arts. However, several area towns with an arts district similar to Leesburg’s allow murals on commercial buildings.
Some council members shared concerns about maintaining the integrity of the historic downtown and First Amendment violations that could arise from a mural vetting process.
“I’m not quite sure how an old historic district is simpatico with an arts and cultural district. There’s a lot of butting of heads with me on that,” Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said.
Several council members expressed interest in allowing murals on commercial buildings. Councilman Neil Steinberg suggested, and the council agreed, that town staff further explore the issues surrounding any change to the current mural policy during a future work session.
While the council has considered — and rejected — joining a Main Street Program in past fiscal years, the new council is again exploring the option.
The Virginia Main Street Program, run through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, leverages public and private investments to spur economic development in downtown and historic areas. For the most part, community-run Main Street Programs have increased revenue, created jobs and lent participating towns a sense of place, according to Economic Development Director Russell Seymour.
What’s changed since the council last considered the Main Street Program is a “tiered” system where towns can choose their level of involvement. The first two tiers are free, and the second tier provides grant opportunities. The third and fourth tiers would require an application process, the formation of a 501©(3) and $150,000–$225,000 to start.
However, Leesburg does not have to join the Main Street Program to reap its benefits. The town could pick one of the lower tiers and create its own program tailored to town needs.
“There are areas that could use a little revitalization effort,” Councilwoman Kari Nacy said, suggesting that the town focus on revitalizing areas outside of downtown.
Mayor Kelly Burk disagreed, saying downtown needs the attention. “I can think of at least five businesses, five buildings that are vacant at this point,” she said. “That concerns me greatly.”
The council unanimously agreed to ask staff to look into the Virginia Main Street Program further and bring their findings to a future work session.