March 2023

RDA Wins Great American Main Street Award


CHICAGO, ILL., (March 27, 2023) – Main Street America announced today that River District Association (RDA) in Danville, Virginia, has received the prestigious Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA), which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. The 2023 GAMSA designations, sponsored by The Hartford, were presented at the opening plenary for the Main Street Now Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

Selected by a national jury of industry professionals and local leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, River District Association is being recognized for creating a fertile environment for economic vitality through exceptionally strong collaborative leadership and partnerships.

“River District Association demonstrates that a strong organizational foundation based on an ethos of collaboration and strategy leads to transformative change,” said Main Street America Interim President and CEO, Hannah White. “Their tireless efforts to build meaningful relationships with local stakeholders to inform and realize a holistic economic development approach has created an entrepreneurial ecosystem for the downtown and its surrounding region.” 

Danville’s downtown is well known for its rich manufacturing heritage, which built large brick facilities along the town’s eponymous waterway. As these industries shrank during the 1980s-2000s, the downtown suffered economically. Today, the downtown is not only rebounding, but thriving as an attractive place for residents and visitors to remember the area’s history while contributing to a vibrant future for all.

Revitalization work led by RDA began in 1999 with a mission to coordinate efforts with the city agencies. While these early efforts resulted in some progress, meaningful change was hampered by the continued decline of the town’s mill industry. Strategically designed action plans in 2011 and 2017—which included the allocation of public dollars into the downtown and retooled RDA’s organizational structure based on the principles of the Main Street Approach—supported sustainable economic initiatives, multifunctional promotional activities, and property development. 

The results: Danville’s vision of a vibrant downtown is coming to fruition. Since 2010, the River District has leveraged $52 million in public investment to attract $310 million in private investment to facilitate the creation of more than 150 businesses and the addition of over 1,200 residential spaces. 

“This is a tremendous honor for our community, and very important for our local residents who have been through so much economic turmoil over the decades,” said Diana Schwartz, CEO at River District Association. “This recognition will continue to drive home the understanding that Danville truly is a city once again on the rise. It is because of the resilience of the people in our community that Danville is a great place for those that choose to live, work, play, pray, and invest in.”

RDA credits a creative and entrepreneurial mindset, as well as intentional efforts to increase the strength, collaboration, trustworthiness, and reputation of the organization as their keys to success. Notable accomplishments include investing in the professional development of board members, establishing rock-solid relationships with stakeholders, and implementing thoughtfully constructed, yet ambitious strategic plans.

Their Dream Launch series is credited as its most impactful programming. Consisting of four distinct, yet integrated programs, the program equips budding entrepreneurs and established businesses with education and financial tools. Since 2018, the program’s business bootcamp series has provided free start-up training to over 465 participants (200 of which completed all 6 Dream Launch Bootcamp Classes) and has distributed $375,000 in grants. 

“Danville's transformation is proof of the power of the Main Street Approach,” remarked Courtney Mailey, Virginia Main Street State Coordinator at Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. “Leaders in every facet of the community are united in a common vision and plan for the future. And they stick to it! They understand the importance of downtown revitalization and entrepreneur support in creating a positive quality of life for the entire region.”

The organization’s Vote Your Main Street campaign resulted in securing a $150,000 preservation award that provided funds for the renovation of a historic property, an increase sense of community pride, and organizational sustainability for RDA as a part owner in the building. Their façade improvement program has provided nearly 40 property owners and tenants with grants, in-kind professional services, and technical assistance. From fresh coats of paint to new signs, these improvements are inspiring a positive multiplying effect on the community’s sense of pride and physical appearance.

"We are immensely proud of the city of Danville, the Danville River Association, and the residents for earning this coveted national award for their Main Street efforts," said Bryan Horn, Director of DHCD. "Danville continues to exemplify the profound impacts that downtown revitalization can have on communities and regional economies, and we applaud them for their efforts to create a vibrant community to live, work, and visit."



The Great American Main Street Award program recognizes communities exemplifying the use of the Main Street Approach™ to revitalize commercial districts. Winners are selected from a nationwide pool of applicants by a jury of Main Street professionals and leaders in the fields of community and economic development and historic preservation. Since the award’s inception in 1995, over 100 Main Street programs have been honored as GAMSA communities. For more information, visit


Main Street America leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. For more than 40 years, Main Street America has provided a practical, adaptable, and impactful framework for community-driven, comprehensive revitalization through the Main Street Approach™. Our network of more than 1,200 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. For more information, visit


River District Association (RDA) melds the past with the present to provide a vibrant economic core in Danville, Virginia. RDA works with the City of Danville, area businesses, and institutions to develop programs and events to foster community collaboration, market the area's unique assets, improve the physical appearance of the historic downtown, and to attract and retain businesses. RDA is an Accredited Main Street America and Virginia Main Street program. For more information, visit  


Danville celebrates the opening of VANTAGE Art Flats on the 500 block of Craghead Street

DANVILLE VA – The River District Association, the City of Danville and VANTAGE Art Flats, are pleased to invite the community to a ribbon cutting on March 20th, 2023 at 12 pm, celebrating the opening of VANTAGE Art Flats.

VANTAGE Art Flats, located at 550 Craghead Street, is an art themed AirBnB project that includes 9 apartment-like lodgings, and art studio, and art themed outdoor space that will eventually connect to a city park behind the building.   This project is part of the award winning 500 block revitalization project, spearheaded by local business owner and River District enthusiast, Rick Barker. 

“VANTAGE Art Flats, in the heart of the River District, is designed to deliver a unique Danville experience to the region’s most discerning travelers. This dedicated Airbnb property will offer apartment style amenities for overnight guests, with a focus on both regional and international art.” Says Barker, “This restoration project began with buildings vacant for decades and in a terrible state of disrepair. The buildings, heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael, have been thoughtfully restored to the highest standard, insuring their life span into the next century. It is exciting to see Danville’s antique architecture repurposed to become a vital part of our new economy.”

“Our city is undergoing a remarkable resurgence, and what is happening in our River District is a great example of that activity,” Mayor Alonzo Jones said. “In the last 12 to 13 years, public investment of $52 million in the River District has resulted in $310 million of private investment. Take a drive along Craghead Street and you will see buildings once vacant that have a new life as living spaces and as places to eat and gather with their friends. This project is a great example of the regeneration of this street and our downtown.”

In addition to renting out lodging through AirBnB, VANTAGE Art Flats will also house an artist in residency program that will offer studio pace and lodging for artists from around the country and world. Artists will be responsible for their own travel, materials, meals, and personal incidentals, Vantage Art Flats will provide housing and studio space at no cost as well as a monthly stipend of $3,000.

Schwartz recognized for leading and growing the non-profit revitalization organization


The River District Association (RDA) Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Diana L. Schwartz, Executive Director of the River District Association, will take on the new title of Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately.  The change in title will more accurately reflect her role leading and growing the downtown revitalization organization.

Since being hired by the RDA Board of Directors in 2017, Schwartz has focused on creating high performing programs such as the RDA Dream Launch Bootcamp and resulting pitch opportunities, securing outside grant funding through initiatives like the national award-winning 2018 Vote Your Main Street campaign to assist in property preservation and development on North Union Street, and is a recognized leader regionally, building collaborative relationships with organizations and individuals across the Dan River Region.

The success that Schwartz and the RDA Board have experienced driving the change and growth of the organizational initiatives over the past five years has opened opportunities to access additional resources; especially notable is the additional talent Schwartz has attracted to the RDA team.  With this organizational growth, tripling the annual budget and growing a team from 1 staff person to 5, Diana’s role has shifted from creating and managing new programs and services for the downtown stakeholder and business community, to a greater emphasis on growing local leaders, enhancing strategic local, regional, and statewide relationships, and finding appropriate opportunities for RDA to serve as an even greater resource for economic and community development for the region.

"Over the past several years, Diana has positioned RDA as a collaborative leader in the region and garnered national recognition for its work in the River District.” Said, Rachel Covington, RDA Board President, “As the organization grows and begins to influence social and economic development in areas beyond the River District, the RDA Board feels that this title change will more accurately reflect the next chapter of the organization. Diana is most deserving of this, and she is dedicated to leading a full team that will create a positive impact in the Dan River Region."