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ODA earns accreditation

ODA earns accreditation

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J-Downtown Orange-Main Street

In addition to providing banners and planters to the downtown business district, the Orange Downtown Alliance provides business support, guidance and grants to downtown merchants. 

Orange Downtown Alliance, Inc. (Love Orange Virginia) has been accredited as a Main Street program for meeting standards of performance in 2020.

Main Street America, a program of the National Main Street Center (itself a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation), and its partners annually recognize main street programs they deem to have an “exceptional commitment to preservation-based economic development and community revitalization through the Main Street Approach.”

The ODA is a nonprofit association that helps promote the Town of Orange and encourage both economic development and historic preservation in the community. It is governed by a board of directors and celebrated its 28th anniversary in 2020.

Charlotte Cole, the executive director of the ODA, emphasized that the work of the nonprofit is a team effort – the board, staff, town, local businesses and partners all play vital roles.

“Receiving both National and Virginia Main Street accreditation for our work conducted during the most challenging of times is a testament to the entire Orange Main Street team,” Cole said. “We began our program’s reboot in 2019 and were on a successful trajectory when COVID-19 hit. Through our razor-focused, collective efforts during 2020, we emerged successful.

“It is a sweet reward for our program to receive this accreditation,” she added. “We’re excited to continue growing economic vitality here in Orange as an Advancing Virginia Main Street community.

Patrice Frey, president and CEO of Main Street America said in a statement that she was especially impressed by the ODA’s ability to withstand the tough economic conditions during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and still come out the other side stronger and more prepared.

“We are proud to recognize this year’s 889 nationally accredited Main Street programs that have worked tirelessly to advance economic vitality and quality of life in their downtowns and commercial districts,” Frey said. “During an incredibly challenging year, these programs demonstrated the power of the Main Street movement to drive impressive local recovery efforts, champion small businesses, and foster vibrant downtown districts. I am inspired by their hard work and confident that these accredited communities will continue to help their downtowns flourish in the next stages of recovery.”

According to Cole, since 1992, Orange’s Main Street program has generated $54.92 million in local reinvestment, helped open 274 new businesses and generated 782 new jobs in the Main Street District.

Cole detailed how Virginia Main Street, an agency of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, evaluates the performance of Orange’s Main Street program.

“[Virginia Main Street] works in partnership with Main Street America to identify the local programs that meet 10 national performance standards,” she said. “Evaluation criteria determines the communities that are building meaningful and sustainable revitalization programs and include standards such as, fostering strong public-private partnerships, documenting programmatic progress, and actively preserving historic buildings.”

Robert Higginbotham, who serves as president of the ODA’s board, said that he is proud to have helped lead the effort alongside the rest of the board and Cole to keep businesses afloat when they were faced with so much uncertainty.

“2020 was a year like no other I’ve experienced,” he said. “As a small business owner, our enterprises experienced significant challenges related to the pandemic, as did so many small business owners. Yet, having the power and resources of Main Street behind us, we were able to stay the course.”

When ODA received a $10,000 COVID Relief Grant from Virginia Main Street in 2020, it broke the funds down into $1,000 grants awarded to local businesses to help them cope with the costs of PPE and other changes during the pandemic lockdowns.

Higginbotham and his wife, Shalese, operate Madison at the Mill, a wedding and event venue located on the top floor of the historic Silk Mill development in Orange.

“Orange’s Main Street program reacted early to offer grants to small businesses that enabled them to quickly obtain PPE, pivot their marketing efforts and/or assist with operational expenses,” he added. “Throughout the pandemic, we were a trusted source for COVID information and other resources, including policy decisions, industry reactions and real-time financial assistance – all keenly focused on aiding our small businesses. We received high marks from many businesses for our ability to provide needed support and help them maintain the confidence to keep going.”

Regarding the significance of receiving accreditation, Cole said that the designation opens up many new doors. She mentioned that the ODA’s ability to apply for and receive grant awards and create new programs is strengthened by being accredited.

Up next for the ODA is a Clay Day collaboration with The Arts Center in Orange to create public art that will be placed in downtown planters.

“Placemaking is an important aspect of the Main Street movement, and we are so excited to be a sponsor and partner of The Art Center’s upcoming Clay Day Play Day,” Cole said. “This innovative, family-focused community event is the perfect activity as we emerge from ‘COVID captivity.’ We look forward to seeing how our community transforms 2,000 pounds of clay into various pieces of art on July 17. Come and get your hands dirty!”

The Clay Day Play Day is open to all ages and skill levels and will last from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and be held on Short Street beside the Orange Train Station.

To learn more about the ODA and its activities, visit Love Orange Virginia on Facebook.

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