Danville streetlights

Main-Market & Beyond, Danville's newly formed business association, raised nearly $160,000 over the last year to install 31 streetlights along the village's downtown corridor.

DANVILLE — When Lisa Lloyd looks at Danville’s streetlight project, she sees a long-held vision coming to fruition.

The program director for the Knox County Foundation (KCF) was a part of the initial group of local stakeholders that decided back in 2017 to form an allegiance – one that would combine the KCF’s philanthropic prowess with the Area Development Foundation’s (ADF) expertise in economic development and community planning, with the goal of giving Knox County’s four villages the resources they would need to prepare for the future.

“The idea stemmed from the downtown Mount Vernon plan that took place (in 2017),” Lloyd said. “We wanted to expand those efforts across the county and help each village figure out who they were and who they wanted to be over the next five years, and give them the map to do that.”

The KCF pledged to budget $40,000 in unrestricted funds each year for each village (Centerburg, Danville, Fredericktown and Gambier), totaling $160,000 per village over the four-year lifespan of the program. Each village would use the money to create its own strategic plan and begin implementing it.

The ADF, meanwhile, pledged to provide community-planning consultation to each village during the four-year program. This would include regular check-ins from the organization’s vice president, who would answer questions and offer perspective on the planning process.

The KCF and ADF were not to sway village leaders one way or the other, Lloyd said, when it came to planning. They were not to influence certain projects or objectives. They were simply there to equip each village with the resources it would need to create its own vision – and begin bringing it to life.

“We (at the KCF) wanted to guide them through that map financially,” Lloyd said, “and then from the ADF’S standpoint, they wanted to (guide them through the process) logistically.”

By the time the KCF and ADF created this alliance in late 2017, Danville had already begun to experience a bit of a downtown renaissance.

Betty Severns, owner of The Blonde Robin, and a few other village residents had formed a group called “The Dragonflies” in 2016, following the death of Danville police officer Thomas Cottrell. The group’s goal was to spruce Danville up, Severns said, and in turn, inspire others to get involved in doing the same.

“We just started doing little things around town. …” Severns recalled. They organized the Christmas Walk and the first annual Ladies’ Night Out in collaboration with village officials, including the late village administrator Rob McDonald.

“We just tried doing little things in town to get people motivated,” she said.

The seeds of a full-fledged business association had been planted. With help from the KCF and ADF, one would be able to grow.

“We started meeting with the ADF and (then-vice president) Jeff Gottke, and they were able to start a grant for some of the smaller towns like us,” Severns said.

The KCF and ADF officially rolled out their village planning program in 2018. Each village then formed a steering committee, made up of public and private community leaders, to lead the planning process.

After consulting with leaders in each village, the KCF hired Columbus-based planning firm MS Consultants to work with each steering committee to develop their own, village-specific strategic plan.

The KCF then budgeted a total of $640,000 over the next four years ($160,000 per village from 2019-2023) for each village to begin carrying out its strategic plan, with planning assistance from the ADF.

“That $160,000 total was used to kickstart their strategic plans,” current ADF Vice President Sam Filkins said. “Because creating a plan is good, but having the resources to make it a reality is what really makes a difference.”

One of the things that came out of this effort for Danville – along with a complete reexamination and modernization of the village’s zoning code – was the formation of Main-Market and Beyond, a formal outgrowth of “The Dragonflies.”

Severns said funding from the KCF and guidance from the ADF allowed the grassroots organization to expand and formally incorporate, becoming a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

“We used some of that grant money to get that all set up,” Severns said. “Jeff Gottke (who now serves as the ADF’s president), Sam Filkins and Lisa Lloyd have all been very good – they’ve met with us so much and helped get us through all of this.”

Severns said the timing worked out perfectly. Just as “The Dragonflies” were beginning to outgrow their original grassroots structure, this assistance came along to take the organization to the next level.

“This was originally just a few ladies, running around and starting different programs and events. … We were all kind of individually doing that on our own,” Severns said.

“We needed to become an incorporated entity to say, ‘This group is insured. We have an account at a bank. Our treasurer is from Killbuck (Savings Bank) and he’s in charge of money.’ It was getting too big for all of us.”

Main-Market and Beyond is now run by a board of seven Danville-area business owners. Severns serves as the chair of the beautification committee, which was responsible for the streetlight project, among other efforts.

She said the purpose of the organization is to “promote Danville-area businesses,” including those within an eight-mile radius of the village.

“Our businesses are not just right in Danville; they go outside the village limits as well,” Severns said. “We have a lot of Amish (businesses) in our area, and that was a big (motivating factor) for us, was just wanting people to see what Danville has to offer. We’re a mix between an Amish and an English community.”

Main-Market and Beyond used grant funding from the KCF and guidance from the ADF to build its own website, which contains a full list of Danville-area businesses, broken down by sector, as well as interactive maps and calendars.

It also used resources from the program to install kiosks downtown, displaying maps of local businesses and amenities, and new village entrance signs on Market Street and Main Street.

The streetlight project was made possible through the program as well. Main-Market and Beyond used $71,000 in grant funding from the KCF to help foot the $158,500 bill, with the rest of the money coming from local donors and community partners.

“This program’s really about trying to create local capacity for taking on these types of projects,” Filkins said.

“Something like streetlights might seem like a small thing to the outside person, but the brand and image of your community for people who are coming through can be impacted by something like streetlights and banners.”

Severns said the KCF and ADF’s assistance has not only allowed Main-Market and Beyond to incorporate and expand over the last four years – it’s allowed the organization to begin making a difference in the community as well.

“It’s like seed money,” Severns said of the KCF’s funding. “We had to have something. Some of the grants we were applying for, we had to have a percentage down to receive it.

“So it was definitely something that motivated all of us. It helped us see (that our goals) were reachable, that we were actually able to do something here. It’s a great thing they did for all of (Knox County’s) smaller towns.”

This momentum has helped Main-Market and Beyond accomplish what “The Dragonflies” set out to accomplish seven years ago, Severns said. It has increased community pride and inspired others in the village to do their part in making Danville a better place.

“A lot of people are starting to notice that in Danville and are wanting to step it up a little bit for their own property, and that was one of our biggest goals,” Severns said. “When we originally started this group, one of our things was, ‘If we plant flowers, others will do so, too.’ That was our goal, was just to influence other people to try to do better.”

Danville Mayor Joe Mazzari said the organization’s influence on the community has been palpable.

“I think it’s been a phenomenal thing that’s happened. It’s just a handful of people who came together and said, ‘You know what? Let’s create our business districts again. Let’s put together a plan. We want to (improve) our village,'” Mazzari said.

“Main-Market and Beyond was created out of that spirit, of being able to join together and share ideas with each other, and create what they plan to create, which is an inviting community. We’re inviting others to come into our community.”

With momentum on its side, Severns said Main-Market and Beyond is just getting started.

The organization that founded Chicken Days in 2022 has ambitious plans for the future, she said, including electrical upgrades at Memorial Park that would allow it to host bluegrass concerts, food truck festivals and other events; and upgrades to the village’s bike trails that would make them safer and more seamlessly connected to the downtown business district.

“We still have lots we’d like to do with Danville,” Severns said. “We have a long way to go.”

Fundraising will take time, Severns noted, especially with the KCF and ADF’s program coming to a close at the end of the year.

But now, through a dedicated group of village residents and support from two county organizations, Main-Market and Beyond is in a position to make a difference. The organization is equipped with the resources, experience and confidence to chase big projects, Severns said.

Lloyd and Filkins said that was the goal all along.

“This is exactly what we wanted to see in each of the villages,” said Lloyd, noting the success other revitalized business associations around the county have had as a result of this program. “Everyone’s done it in different ways.”

“This program was also about creating a tool to make (local projects) happen, like Main-Market and Beyond,” Filkins added. “This creates sustainable growth down road, so the next time the community says, ‘We’d like to install benches,’ there’s an organization already in-place that has practice and experience doing these kinds of projects.”

Nearing the end of its four-year run, both Lloyd and Filkins called the program a success. Stories like Main-Market and Beyond’s show why.

“I think it was very successful. I think COVID held us back for a year, like it did most things, but I think we caught up and surpassed some of the goals we set,” Lloyd said.

“Each village now has a strong foundation. They all have their own, strong groups, such as Main-Market and Beyond in Danville and the Heart of Ohio Business Association in Centerburg, that are just passionate about it. They will continue to carry this forward, even if we step away – and I don’t think we will any time soon.

“This gave people motivation and it lit (a fire) in them to see their villages become something bigger and better than they currently were.”

And the relationship between the KCF, ADF and the county’s four villages isn’t expected to end here. While the village development program will come to a close at the end of the year, Lloyd, Filkins and Severns all say they expect that working relationship to continue.

“Even though we won’t be receiving any more money from them – both Sam and Lisa, if I have any questions, they’re right on top of it,” Severns said in an interview this spring. At the time, Lloyd was helping Main-Market and Beyond fill out grant applications, while Filkins was keeping the organization updated on Intel and other area economic development news.

“They’re always there to help us and lead us,” Severns said.

The ADF is committed to providing planning consultation to the county’s villages long-term, Filkins said. Lloyd said the KCF is committed to helping out where it can as well, given the success of the last four years.

“Because of all the good things happening in villages, we just had our board retreat this spring and our board wants to continue helping these villages at some level,” Lloyd said. “It probably won’t be $40,000 per year, but we have momentum and we don’t want it to stop.

“We want to continue working with the villages at some level to keep these plans going strong.”

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