By Randy Arrington
LURAY, June 30 — Wednesday marked the final day of Bill Huffman’s four-year tenure as chairman of the Luray Downtown Initiative‘s Board of Directors. Many in Luray believe that LDI has taken a turn for the better under Huffman’s leadership. However, the ever-humble Huffman credits a community effort to building the momentum being seen in downtown in recent years.
“We’ve rebuilt the trust with the town…with the town council, and we started to roll forward and fill vacant buildings,” Huffman said on Wednesday. “There aren’t many vacant buildings left on Main Street. So, we’ve gone from a focus of attraction to retention” in terms of downtown businesses.
Huffman first joined the LDI board in 2015 as secretary, before being voted in as chairman in 2017 and taking over for Nancy Lee Shifflett. He works for Luray Caverns as assistant director of marketing and public relations. Working for the area’s major tourist attraction, Huffman understands the importance of downtown to the community, as well as the need to drive some of the caverns’ traffic in that direction.
“Downtown is a historic core of our community and the visual identity of the town,” Huffman said. “LDI works to facilitate traffic for businesses, increase the quality of life for residents, and the overall betterment of the community.”
In November, Meredith Dees announced that she would be stepping down as LDI’s program director, a role she had held since October 2016. In February, the LDI board hired Jackie Fox Elliott in that role. The new program director echos the sentiment that Huffman has been a driving force behind LDI’s building success.
“Working with Bill Huffman has been an absolute joy,” Elliot said. “He has so much love and passion for his hometown. He is a wealth of knowledge. I couldn’t have done it without he and Meredith. He and Meredith did a lot to turn around downtown, and I am fortunate to have been left such a great blueprint.”
On July 1, vice chair Ryann Hodson will step in as interim chairman of LDI’s Board of Directors. Hodson is the co-owner of Broadporch Coffee Co. next to the Main Street bridge.
One LDI project launched in recent years that has reached completion is the Creekside Commons pocket park constructed along the Hawksbill Creek. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for next week on Wednesday, July 7 to launch the gateway enhancement that offers an electric vehicle charging station, picnic table and a “bling frame” where visitors can take a family photo with a Luray mural and the greenway in the background. LDI secured $25,000 in state grant funding to develop the pocket park through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the Virginia Main Street program.
LDI has also coordinated feasibility studies to help downtown owners see potential opportunities in their properties, distributed $10,000 to 10 different business ($1,000 each) impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and reactivated its facade improvement program last year to provide 50/50 matching grant funds up to $2,500 per business.
The direction of LDI seems to be on an upward trajectory, and it’s visually noticeable with growing crowds at special events like trick-or-treating on Halloween. This Fourth of July will see the awaited unveiling of the first “Downtown Get Down”, which initially was planned to replace the Festival of Spring (along with a planned Sunflower Festival in September). Look for more details later this week on PVN about the events planned for 5 to 9 p.m. on Sunday in Luray.
While Downtown Luray begins to see sparks of revitalization coming out of a year-long pandemic, Huffman sees LDI’s role taking even more focus and even greater importance as the town celebrates ribbon cutting, after ribbon cutting, and new businesses continue to flock to the area.
“LDI needs to keep working to strengthen relationships with downtown business owners. We need to retain what we have,” the outgoing chairman said. “We also need to develop more way-finding measures to route tourists and locals through downtown and to our businesses.”
Although Wednesday was his last official day as LDI’s chairman, Huffman says he will continue to be involved.
“I will still volunteer and support the organization any way I can,” he said. “I just want to give back to the community that has given so much to me.”