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Public Investment:
A powerful tool to benefit the lives of Stauntonians

What Is Public Investment?

Public investment generally refers to capital supplied by the government to create infrastructure that benefits citizens and has a productive life extending beyond a year. It might take the form of hard infrastructure, such as roads or public buildings, or soft infrastructure, such as research & development. It includes projects as expansive as the federal Interstate Highway System, as regionally significant as a major sports stadium, or as localized as a new streetlight. 

While they can be undertaken to solve urgent problems, when employed strategically public investments can also lead to long-term benefits for the community. Those are the ones I’m most interested in this week.

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When I interviewed for the vacancy on City Council last February, I responded to one question by stating that I’m a big believer in the idea that public investment spurs private investment. Naturally, a locality’s carefully planned and vetted public investment should produce direct, tangible results for the community. But sometimes overlooked are the secondary results once residential and commercial property owners in the affected area take notice, leading to enhanced community pride and fostering further investment.

Public Investment In Staunton

The idea of public investment is nothing new for Staunton. Our city has a long history of leveraging public dollars in the service of creating a brighter future. In the 1920’s, the city faced a critical water supply issue. It responded by investing in a massive project that created the Staunton reservoir and its supporting infrastructure, securing water availability that has ensured citizens’ health and safety and enabled city growth for more than a hundred years.

In the early 2000’s, the city made the forward-thinking–and, at the time, controversial–decision to bury its downtown utility lines along Beverley Street. It was a very ambitious project that demanded a significant financial commitment, but it’s hard to imagine anyone would argue that it hasn’t paid off exponentially for the city. A direct result was the redevelopment of our historic downtown. This radically enhanced Staunton’s regional and national visibility, thanks to innumerable accolades for the city in national and regional media.  Ultimately, this decision paved the way for our current enviable reputation as an East Coast draw for tourism, culture, and relocation.

More recently, after the successful pandemic experiment that converted downtown Beverley Street into a weekend pedestrian venue, the city’s investment in traffic bollards to enable quick implementation and turnaround has paid off handsomely in both increased commercial and tax revenues and enhanced quality of life.

The Sleeping Potential in Public Rights of Way

From a cost/benefit standpoint, some of the most attractive opportunities for public investment can be found in the public rights-of-way along our city streets. Why? Because there are little to no acquisition costs, as the city already owns and maintains them.

As one example, let’s look at Central Avenue between Churchville Avenue and Frederick Street. In 2010, before we moved to Staunton, the city invested in a roadway project along the Churchville corridor. This project upgraded the roadway between Albemarle Avenue and Augusta Street to improve traffic operations. But it also improved the streetscape and pedestrian connectivity for this important link between two of our city’s greatest assets, Gypsy Hill Park and the Staunton Public Library. This project also included the initial phase of streetscape improvement along Central between Churchville and Pump Street.

Since our move to Staunton in 2014, it’s been remarkable to witness the transformation of this extension of our downtown core into a more vibrant commercial area. Gloria’s Pupuseria pushed through the devastating flood to come back better than ever. Sole Focus Running, the relocated Black Dog Bikes, the Refill/Renew store, Magdalena’s, and Chicano Boy Taco–not to mention Justin Hershey’s exciting new pizza concept coming soon to the neighborhood–are just a few of the many businesses fueling the area’s upward trajectory.

View of recently completed Central Avenue streetscape improvements looking south toward Frederick Street.

Improvements to the public rights-of-way not only support economic investment, but by making them friendlier to alternative modes of travel other than cars, they improve accessibility, relieve traffic congestion, and promote healthier communities for all.

Staunton’s ongoing commitment to support this exciting synergy through public investment has been visibly underscored by this year’s completion of the Central Avenue streetscape plan. 

But the best part of public investment along public rights-of-way? Due to the availability of state and federal grants, these types of improvements present unequaled opportunities to utilize non-local funding to address city needs. Just last week City Council approved a resolution in support of a grant submission that would cover the next phase of improvements along the Churchville Avenue streetscape, completing pedestrian connectivity upgrades between downtown and Gypsy Hill Park.

What’s Next for Staunton Public Investment?

While our city has certainly taken advantage of available grant funding for these types of improvements in the past, opportunities exist to do much more. 

My vision is to create a pipeline of similar improvements that could be implemented using a shorter and more efficient timeframe, extending these benefits to other community corridors. West Beverley Street could experience a similar revitalization with the application of Central Avenue-type streetscape improvements that would support the future success of our soon-to-be-built J&DR Courts facility.   

Last week, in addition to approving the Churchville Avenue grant submission, the city held a public information meeting to exchange thoughts with citizens on initial steps toward improving bike and pedestrian facilities as part of a paving project that will run along West Beverley between the western city limits and Thornrose Cemetery. 

Staunton citizens attending the public information meeting about bike and pedestrian facilities last week.

But, as I mentioned earlier, public investment includes more than roads and bike lanes. Last week’s Council meeting also included a presentation from our Valley Community Services Board (VCSB) on a significant opportunity to address the critical need for additional support for neighbors experiencing mental health and substance abuse problems. A proposed regional crisis receiving center would provide a facility with the necessary staff and resources to accommodate and treat people needing acute care related to these issues. This would in turn free local law enforcement and healthcare providers, who are already stretched thin, to focus their resources on other primary needs. 

This possibility is especially close to my heart, combining two priorities of my campaign:  regional collaboration and public/private partnership opportunities, focused on a critical problem that impacts the entire community. While the crisis center is not a new concept, recent funding commitments made by state leadership provide a potential pathway to making this urgently needed facility a reality, through creation of a joint program between Staunton, Augusta County, Waynesboro, VCSB and Augusta Health.

With imagination, determination, and cooperation, we can find ways to continue Staunton’s proud history of smart and effective public investment while making use of the wealth of opportunities available from sources found beyond our city limits. I’m excited about the possibility of contributing to these efforts and hope I’ve earned your vote to continue being a part of them.