Proudly known as the “City of Firsts,” Danville, Kentucky, like many small cities, lost much of its energy over time due to slowed growth as well as development moving to the metropolitan edges. To help recapture the town’s unique spirit and energy, the City of Danville recognized the need to galvanize the community around a vision for moving downtown forward.
Gresham Smith co-led an eight-month planning process, speaking with hundreds of residents, business owners and institutional leaders, to identify opportunities for improving Danville’s future. Our landscape architecture and planning team’s ability to engage the community helped bring out diverse perspectives and suggest new opportunities that reimagine downtown Danville. With strong leadership from the City and Danville’s Centre College, the master plan is being used to implement projects that are already positively impacting the city.
month planning process
innovative master plan
Starting Small to Go Big
Danville, Kentucky, is a small town of 16,000 people with three extremely important institutions: the city itself, Centre College and Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center. The study area for the master plan focuses on four main corridors—Main, Walnut, Third and Fourth streets—that run north to south and east to west through the heart of downtown Danville. These key corridors make up the majority of downtown Danville and offer significant areas for improvement.
“We were brought in to think through how to strategically position Danville for the future,” says senior landscape architect Louis Johnson. “Our team broke down the master plan into understandable bites for people, making its three key goals things that everyone in the community can relate to. Even the smallest of improvements could yield massive gains in terms of quality of life.”
From the heart of downtown, citizens have a majority of their everyday needs met within a two-mile radius: groceries, shopping, entertainment, healthcare, and education. Scroll over for more info.
Going Straight to the Source
Our eight-month planning process was built around community engagement and implementing three key efforts to build a foundation of feedback that helped shape the master plan. Johnson explains:
“Prior to starting the master plan, we led an interactive work session at a local Smart Growth conference hosted by the City of Danville in which we presented basic smart-growth principles—such as creating walkable neighborhoods and encouraging community and stakeholder collaboration—and explained what it would mean to apply those principles to the city.
“We also talked about some of the challenges and ‘big ideas’ involved, which essentially set the tone for the project. Following the conference, we collected feedback from more than 100 members of the local community, which was incredibly valuable.”
Making History Relevant for the 21st Century
In the next phase, our team led stakeholder interviews that helped clarify the community’s needs and concerns, which informed the foundation of the master plan.
“As part of the stakeholder interview process—with help from the City—we set up interviews and tours with the Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society and other members of the community, which provided us with a much deeper historical context of downtown Danville as seen through their eyes,” notes senior landscape architect Erin Hathaway. “This effort spurred new ideas for how to make downtown both more comfortable and inclusive.”
“During urban renewal, many Black-owned businesses and buildings were demolished leaving no trace of the once-vibrant community that existed along Second Street, which was the Black economic hub of Danville,” adds Johnson.
“The project gave us the opportunity to highlight this hidden part of Danville’s history by working with Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society as well as North Carolina A&T State University landscape architecture students to develop both low- and high-tech concepts for sharing stories about the Black communities, businesses and people who were displaced by gentrification. The result of this work has been integrated into the master plan and will inform more inclusive placemaking projects in Danville.”
Boots on the Ground
In the final part of the planning process, our team led on-the-ground engagement sessions that included a walking tour with Centre College students as well as pop-up events. Both efforts fostered extremely fruitful and ongoing conversations with the local community, giving us a better understanding of downtown Danville’s needs. The planning process ultimately led to three guiding principles for the master plan: Connect to People, Places and Culture; Make Streets for People; and Infill Blocks, Lots and Buildings. The goals outlined in these guiding principles ultimately informed each priority project recommendation.
Forging Stronger Connections
While Danville boasts beautiful neighborhoods and a world-class college, it’s also a small-scale city that’s rich in local history. Therefore, downtown Danville should serve as a launchpad for regional tourism that connects everyone to the city through placemaking, trails, public art, civic programming and storytelling. The master plan suggests this can be achieved by connecting Danville’s people, places, culture and history, as well as the city’s institutions and businesses.
A reimagined Main Street. The master plan envisions sidewalk streetscape enhancements to this main downtown thoroughfare that will benefit everyone in the community.
Streets for Everyone
For downtown Danville to thrive it not only needs more housing and local businesses, but also to improve the city’s key corridors and streetscapes. Hathaway explains:
“The main goals in this guiding principle revolve around safety and supporting local businesses. The master plan advocates making downtown Danville’s streets and sidewalks a place where everyone feels both safe and welcome by improving Main, Walnut, Third and Fourth streets, which will help revitalize downtown’s energy and commerce.
“The master plan advocates making downtown Danville’s streets and sidewalks a place where everyone feels both safe and welcome by improving Main, Walnut, Third and Fourth streets, which will help revitalize downtown’s energy and commerce.”
—Erin Hathaway, Senior Landscape Architect
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the burden local restaurants faced, we worked with City staff to suggest a series of parklets that could be installed. The City has already implemented one, which served as a community showcase before the master plan was complete, and helped test the waters for removing on-street parking spaces and adding new dining spaces. Since their installation, they’ve really been embraced by the community, and other local restaurant owners now want their very own parklet.”
This-small scale investment by the City not only demonstrated the value of outdoor public parklets, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also laid the groundwork for a complete redesign of Main Street.
Like many rural cities, surface parking lots abound in downtown Danville, discouraging people from getting out on foot and exploring the town. Through strategic partnerships, infilling vacant and underutilized lots will bring activity, vibrancy and new economic opportunity to the city.
Along with activating underutilized open public spaces, recommendations outlined in the master plan include creating a downtown entertainment and business district, supporting adaptive reuse, and creating a plan for redevelopment that promotes cohesion between major institutions like Centre College and the City.
Planning for action. Proposed improvements to Main Street as outlined in the master plan.
Building a Better Downtown
Reimagining downtown Danville while providing a roadmap for future growth, the master plan has already spurred community partnerships and set the stage for immediate and impactful action. As a direct result of the master plan, Gresham Smith was hired to lead the redesign of downtown Danville’s Main Street—a key early investment of the plan.
“This project not only sets a great example for other small towns, but also illustrates the power of a community coming together to bring a plan to life,” says Johnson. “Because of the master plan, new partnerships and collaborations are already having an immediate impact as seen in the spin-off projects taking root—from the City proactively purchasing land, to Centre College exploring investments—which will create a much-needed synergy among stakeholders and ultimately help build a better downtown Danville.”
“What truly makes the City of Danville Master Plan unique is an intentional lack of emphasis on the plan itself and a strong emphasis on action. The community has truly invested itself in the master plan, which is creating momentum and pushing things forward; projects like the pop-up at the Art Center that create an excitement downtown. To me, that’s the most rewarding part—actually seeing stuff happen. And that’s a testament not only to our team and the plan, but also to our clients in the community.”
—Louis Johnson, Senior Landscape Architect