A Look at Danville’s Resurgence
There is a song on Black Sabbath’s Vol.4 record called “Changes.” Ozzy Osborne sings, “I’m going through changes.” The significance of this song is in the title (and chorus). It marks a change in style for the band. It’s a heartfelt ballad where most of its songs had been sludgy, heavy metal.
It’s a beautiful song. And change can be beautiful.
Danville is going through changes, and they are shaping up to make our city more beautiful, more accessible, and more inviting.
Our revitalization story is still in its first act. The community should be excited to see where this story goes.
City’s Remarkable Resurgence Continues
It was a mild winter day in mid-January as City Manager Ken Larking stood before state and local leaders and dozens of others from the community who had gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony for the iconic White Mill in Danville’s River District.
“Thank you so much for being here to help celebrate this exciting chapter in Danville’s story,” Larking said as he began his speech. “When I came to Danville nearly 10 years ago, I was excited to be part of a community that wanted to build something better for itself and future generations. Yes, declines in the tobacco and textile industries were a tough part of Danville’s narrative. But that was never how this story was going to end.”
As evidence, a new identify was announced that day for the White Mill, where construction is underway that will transform the structure from its original role as part of a sprawling textile operation along the Dan River into a community hub with a mixture of complementary uses including housing, office, and retail, nestled within a planned new riverfront park to be enjoyed by all.
“Dan River Falls” was unveiled as the site’s new identity. The name is a nod to Dan River Fabrics, the textile powerhouse of which the White Mill was a part; Wynne’s Falls, the name of the first settlement along the river that became Danville; and the use of the Dan River, the banks on which the mill building sits, as an economic engine.
Larking said the project is an example of a city seeing what is possible and being ready to make it happen.
“From today forward, this building will be the backdrop for a story about hope and the clearest evidence yet that Danville is experiencing a remarkable resurgence,” he said.
Also, consider the following events and activities (to name a few):
• Economic development: In 2022, the community celebrated the opening of the AeroFarms Danville facility, which the company says is the world’s largest aeroponic smart farm. The Center for Manufacturing Advancement opened and will drive innovation in manufacturing, including automation, robotics, and information technology. The U.S. Navy launched its Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence to develop new technology for submarine and aircraft parts. Also, the expansion of an accelerated training program for defense manufacturing was revealed. In 2023, Engineered BioPharmaceuticals has announced it will expand its pharmaceutical engineering and manufacturing operation in Danville. Construction continues at the Tyson Foods facility outside Danville, and it will open later this year, creating 400 jobs. Also, the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill, which is located just west of the city limits and is the state’s largest megasite, is positioned for its first tenant.
• Resort casino: Hiring is underway by Caesars Virginia for its resort casino that will open in late 2024 at the former Dan River Mills site in the city’s Schoolfield neighborhood. Caesars is looking to fill hundreds of positions. The company plans to open a temporary casino at the Schoolfield site by the middle of the year.
• Tourism: Efforts continue to tap the city and region’s full tourism potential to promote existing tourism assets such as area racetracks, Smith Mountain Lake, the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex, and when it opens, the resort casino. Additional staff are being, and in May, the Danville Office of Economic Development and Tourism will unveil a tourism brand for the community, and launch a tourism website and social media accounts.
• Recreational opportunities: Construction will soon begin on a new riverfront park downtown that will include playgrounds, a main lawn area for events and concerts, a pier overlook that extends onto the river, and a splash pad fountain. Proposals are being solicited to convert the former Dan River Mills bridge into a pedestrian bridge that would tie into the redevelopment of the White Mill building and the planned riverfront park. A splash pad is under construction off North Main Street, with construction soon to begin on a splash pad at Doyle Thomas Park on the south side, and later this year, on a splash pad at Ballou Park. Finally, the “Heart the Park” campaign continues to engage citizens on ways to improve neighborhood parks throughout the city, and Parks and Recreation staff continue to maintain three regional parks and the nearly 12-mile paved Riverwalk Trail.
• Public schools: In 2021, Danville voters approved a 1% sales tax increase to pay for school construction projects that will define the school system for the next 50 years. That work is underway and includes renovations at George Washington High School, a new G.L.H. Johnson Elementary School, and later down the road, renovations at John M. Langston School. Also, renovations are almost complete for the track at George Washington High School.
• Electric substation upgrades: Danville Utilities continues to aggressively upgrade its electric substations in the city and county to increase reliability and reduce outages. The new equipment will last for 30-plus years. In 2022, an upgrade was completed at the Westover substation in Danville. In 2021, the Kentuck and Whitmell substations in Pittsylvania County were upgraded. In 2020, the Riverside and Schoolfield substations in Danville were upgraded. This year, Danville Utilities will complete an upgrade to the Southside substation in Danville, and begin an upgrade to the Airside substation in Danville, expand the West Fork substation in the Brosville community, and build new substations for the Cyber Park and resort casino. The West Fork expansion will add a fourth delivery point from Appalachian Power.
So, while the groundbreaking ceremony for the former While Mill, now “Dan River Falls,” provided the first opportunity to celebrate in 2023, many more opportunities lie ahead.
In the words of Mayor Alonzo Jones, “This is going to be one of the most exciting years that the city of Danville, I believe, has ever seen.”