A pair of local architects with extensive planning experience will present the Town of Hillsville with an ambitious, yet viable plan for Downtown Revitalization on July 27.
Yancey and Jennifer Powers of WM2A Architects and Lisette Interior Design recently presented the plan to the Hillsville Rotary Club. The presentation was so well received, the Carroll County couple was asked to make the presentation to Hillsville Town Council during its July 27 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.
Yancey Powers started his career path with a thesis on urban planning. In addition, his architecture firm has more than 20 years of experience in the field, focusing on master planning for major hospitals and school campuses.
“And we have started working a little more with historical renovations so that we can incorporate that and make downtown look better,” he said.
Locally, Jennifer Powers has done facelifts and interior renovations for such businesses as Jeff Johnson Chevrolet, Classic Creations, Hillsville Pentecostal Holiness Church and the Pipers Gap Rescue Squad.
While they have many ideas for downtown revitalization, the couple say none of it can happen without a unified vision. It must start with getting all of Hillsville’s groups – Friends of Hillsville, the Beautification Committee, the Town of Hillsville, etc. – all working together.
“Even if it’s just once a quarter, the leaders from each of those groups need to get together and have a roundtable meeting,” Yancey Powers said. “Everybody just needs to know what is going on so there’s not a surprise.”
From there, Powers said to get people downtown, you must encourage businesses, create incentives, promote downtown events, public art or other endeavors to instill pride in the community, and encourage daily activity through creating pedestrian friendly spaces. The town already does a great job of promoting downtown events such as its Cruise Ins, Powers said. As far as art, he suggested perhaps holding a contest to design a new town logo, something to get the community involved in the process. Are there other events such as the summer cruise-ins the town could take advantage of?
“I think the Chili Cookoff is a good example,” he said.
Jennifer Powers said the county has done a great job in getting the Carroll County Industrial Park to full capacity. But now maybe the focus needs to shift to Downtown Hillsville, how to get more businesses to come and stay. She pointed to a program called Midtown that was done in Macon, Ga. that Hillsville could mimic.
“It all starts with getting businesses down there, but you have to make the spaces attractive for a business. And the building owner is not going to do that, so either the town or county business developer has to come in and put that little bit of effort in,” she said.
Something fairly easy the town could work on would be to address its empty storefronts. For example, Jennifer Powers pointed to the old post office that sits across from the couple’s office on Main Street. The blinds are pulled from the office and the canopies have been taken down.
“Why can’t we do something with those windows? Or Watt’s The Idea or some of the other empty ones. Next to the shoe store, it’s full of empty boxes. They have some displays there, but work with the building owners and say ‘Can we put a display up in your window and leave your door with the for rent sign on it?’ Put a display up in the window and have Red Hill, for instance, show its wares as a way to support other Hillsville businesses,” she said. “If you put something up in the windows like Country Formals has been doing, change it and keep it fresh so when you drive by you don’t see an entire block of blacked-out windows. A lot of people can’t see the potential of something, but when you see it on a display space they go, ‘Wow, this does really pop here. My stuff could be here.’”
Other suggestions are to create a lived-in appearance and soften up pedestrian spaces. The couple has spent time studying other towns in the region such as West Jefferson and Hendersonville in North Carolina.
“People were outside dining, they had paint, trim, good signage, lots of landscaping. There were just nice places to walk around,” Jennifer Powers said. “And there is no reason we couldn’t do it here.”
Added Yancey, “If you look at West Jefferson, it is packed. We go on a Friday night and you can’t find a parking spot on the main street. What does the town have? They have a few more stores and they’ve got a few different types of restaurants. But here we say we can’t do that because we don’t have this, we don’t have a river running through it…That town is no different than us. We just need to look at what they’ve done successfully and adopt it.”
People complain there is nothing to eat in Hillsville, so they go to Mount Airy, the couple noted. But there are restaurants in Hillsville. There are choices now downtown with Pizza Perfect and the Hardware Bar & Grill. Some people complain about the parking situation in downtown Hillsville.
“There are three giant parking lots. Well, what if the pizza place is too full? Now you have something else to choose from. There are becoming more and more options, which is good,” Yancey Powers said. “It’s a start. It could be used as a catalyst to grow.”
Ways to encourage business include giving tax breaks to existing companies. If a company will agree to update its canopies, for instance, give them 50 cents off in taxes for every dollar of repairs they do. The Town’s public works crew could help on some projects such as the new police ramp, he said. Another suggestion would be to apply for revitalization grants with matching funds.
Powers showed a picture of downtown Hillsville compared to downtown Hendersonville. The two are nearly identical but Hendersonville has huge islands with plants in them they made by ripping out concrete to soften the space.
“It slows down traffic because when you are coming in and you visually have something that compresses you, even though it is not in your lane, you will typically slow down,” Powers said. “All we are talking about doing is busting up the concrete there, planting some trees.”
Crosswalks were also done in brick to differentiate from the road and give a more aesthetically-pleasing look. He said people complain about the telephone poles in Hillsville that are so visible. Hendersonville has them, too, he said, but they are not as prominent because there are other elements that take attention away from them.
“Just put some plants in there, but also, change the material of the crosswalks. It visually slows people down,” he said. “It also gives the pedestrian a sense of point of cross. This would be easy to do. A lot of these storefronts just don’t have a lot on them. Any type of greenery helps.”
The couple also suggests adding planter boxes that are about three feet tall and 18 inches wide on top. The current ones in town are only six by 12 inches, Jennifer Powers said, and you can’t sit on them.
“We need some place as you are walking down the street, to be able to sit other than the park benches,” she said. “The park benches get used.”
Other ideas include updating signage for buildings, for business, increase parking signage, and add flags with something like a town logo sponsored by businesses in the town.
“The signs we have now, you can’t read unless you slow down to about five miles an hour,” said Yancey Powers, pointing to more visible signs used by some of the other towns they visited. “These signs could be adapted to our poles here. We need to say you’ve got restaurants up this direction.”
Not everyone is aware Downtown Hillsville offers ample parking behind the Hardware, behind the Carter Home and other areas.
“There needs to be a couple of places where signage is really predominant when you come in – parking – very visible, and when you get to those parking lots there needs to be a sign that says ‘restaurant’ and points to the pathway,” Yancey Powers said.
He also suggests killing a couple of parking spots on Main Street. It’s something the Town of Blacksburg has done. At first, the town’s merchants hated the idea of losing a couple of parking spots, but when in return they received 15-foot patios with 20 tables, they came around when those tables started to become packed.
“Everyone said this was a fantastic business decision. We need to do the same thing,” Yancey said.
Two or three parking spaces could be taken out in front of Pizza Perfect and the Hardware to give them outdoor dining areas. The same thing could be done in front of the Hillsville Diner and across to the old hotel to make way for a green gateway as you enter town.
The biggest ticket item in the couple’s plan is an archway with a large Welcome to Hillsville sign with an island they would like to create just before Carter Bank & Trust.
“It is a big ticket item, but it gives the town a sense of place. The reason I think we need an archway or something is as you come down by Hardee’s or Burger King, there is really nothing that says we are,” he said. “If you could create a gateway with a banner across, you give a sense of defined space between the two.”
Moving on to Town Hall, Yancey said one of the first things you learn in urban planning is to never paint a building white. Hillsville has two such buildings side by side, including Town Hall. They have inexpensive staged plans that would allow for the buildings to be painted in different colors and schemes to give them a more attractive look.
To bookend with the proposed Welcome to Hillsville archway, the couple also recommends painting the side of the building of the old motel across from the Hillsville Diner.
“Let’s paint Welcome to Hillsville on the side. This building is the first thing you see when you come up that hill past the school,” he said. “We may not do anything to the inside of the building, but if we change the canopy and get some plants up there and paint a Welcome to Hillsville on the side, it ties in with everything else. Replace the broken windows. The broken windows say a lot about your downtown.”
Jennifer Powers said signage is also needed when you come off the freeway, off the bypass, and by Seasons Café. A proposed photo showcasing what downtown has to offer would have a nostalgic 1950s feel to it.
“Let’s not try to pretend we are something we are not. Let’s try to tie off that this is a small little community but it could say ‘Welcome to Hillsville – restaurants, meals 1.5 miles on the left.’ Then in the space below merchants could put Dutch Oven, Pizza Perfect and give them a list of what’s available,” Yancey Powers said. “Right now when you come off, you have no idea what’s ahead. I think there is definite potential, it is just a matter of getting everybody on board.”
Allen Worrell can be reached by at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN