McKinney said he became aware of the grant for building and infrastructure related to economic development earlier this year about the same time talks about taking over the park started. The money should be available immediately whenever the county’s ownership is finalized.
“If you are courting business and industry, it is important for them to see that you can do things in a truly first-class manner," McKinney said. “Having a kind of campus for all our economic development groups will make us the envy of the entire state.”
The county will administer the grant — part of the remaining federal stimulus money — but McKinney said the projects in the park will be overseen by Heart of Danville Director Julie Wagner, who has extensive experience using grants to complete restoration projects.
Wagner said a primary goal is to make sure the buildings, while they maintain their architectural character, also are retrofitted with state-of-the-art equipment. Upgrading the electrical and phone systems and installing a wireless network that will make the entire park a Wi-Fi hot spot are planned, in addition to making the first floors of all of the buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Currently, plans are for the Convention and Visitors Bureau, along with the visitors center, to remain in Grayson’s Tavern. The Heart of Danville and a gift shop selling items similar to those sold at the park in the past will go in the Goldsmith House, while the Boyle County Industrial Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce will occupy Fisher’s Row buildings one and two, respectively.
What has been referred to as the School House, which has a kitchen, will be used as a conference center. The Watts-Bell House could serve a number of purposes, including a business incubator for new businesses to use as office space when they are getting started.
Lassiter said establishing a centralized “commerce village” will eliminate problems the agencies have had coordinating with clients and one another in their various locations. He said the concept would reclaim some of the heritage for an area that originally served as a merchants district.
One thing Lassiter said people don't have to worry about is changes to the look of the buildings, which he said is not allowed by the agreement the county is working on with the state.
“There may be people in some other places who don’t want to deal with going into an older building, but it is something we have experience with in some of our current facilities, such as McClure-Barbee House, and something we embrace,” Lassiter said. “I think we all value the productive reuse of historic properties like these.”