Blacksburg becomes one of three locations in U.S. to earn Mayors Innovative Design Cohort

Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 11:46 PM EDT
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ/News Release) - The Town of Blacksburg, Virginia is one of three cities to win a spot in the Mayors Innovative Design Cohort.

The Cohort is a national partnership between the American Institute of Architects and the Mayors Innovation Project to “help build zero carbon, resilient, healthy, and equitable cities.” Blacksburg leaders will have the opportunity to address the climate crisis while creating equitable, inclusive public spaces.

The Town began working in 2019 on a retail incubator concept in partnership with Downtown Blacksburg Inc., the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Assistance Center. The envisioned retail-focused incubator has three primary goals: (1) to preserve and enhance the dynamic atmosphere of Blacksburg’s historic downtown, (2) to provide quality products and experiences to the surrounding community, and (3) to give entrepreneurs an opportunity to create and expand their businesses in a low-risk setting.

The property chosen for these design efforts is 414 N. Main Street, the former Cooks Cleaner property, which is now owned by the Town of Blacksburg, and is part of the Voluntary Remediation Program through the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The project area has seen an influx of redevelopment in recent years with restaurants, breweries, high tech companies, and the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech.

“This is such an exciting opportunity,” said Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith. “We’ll be using a collaborative approach to create a retail incubator right in the heart of Blacksburg’s historic commercial district. It will form a nexus for the arts, commerce, and tourism while the physical space gives a boost to small businesses, as well as nonprofits. And we’re especially excited that we’ll be working with an experienced group of architecture professionals to bring this longtime dream to life.”

“AIA is excited to work with three mayors in their cities on projects to make neighborhoods more equitable and resilient to climate change,” said 2021 AIA President Peter Exley, FAIA. “When architects work alongside city leaders to solve a reuse or retrofit challenge, the result can not only reduce environmental impact but equitably serve the surrounding community.”

The Town of Blacskburg will receive technical assistance with final written recommendations from an architect, and up to $5,000 to cover necessary city staff time, inclusive engagement tools, and supplies. The project will kick off in September and last about six months.

“Mayors and their cities are on the front lines of many of today’s most pressing challenges,” said Katya Spear, Managing Director, MIP, “We’re delighted for this opportunity to support these cities around green design. Every city has vacant and underused spaces like the ones being featured in this project, and this effort will offer models that cities across the country can use.”

“The fact is, buildings create about 40% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, but architects can design them not to,” stated Exley. “By re-imagining an underused, vacant, or deteriorating building, these projects will help these cities address the urgent needs climate change presents.”

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