British delegation takes tips from Manassas

MANASSAS — The city rolled out the red carpet Friday for a delegation of 11 visitors from England.

Historic Manassas Inc. hosted the group, which is spending a week in Virginia studying what Main Street communities are doing to revitalize their downtowns.

The delegation is headed by Julian Owen, on the board of trustees of Action of Market Towns in Canterbury, England, who visited the area 11 years ago.

“Our organization is similar to that of Virginia’s Main Street communities, and we thought a visit here would be beneficial to both groups as we could exchange ideas,” Owen said at a reception Friday morning in the offices of HMI, where the delegation was treated to breakfast, entertainment, gifts and a welcome by Manassas Mayor Marvin L. Gillum.

Later in the morning, they were given a tour of the downtown area and allowed to spend time chatting with Old Town merchants.

“We are a little behind the revitalization of cities and towns in Virginia, but we both share one major concern — how to keep the storefronts from becoming professional and service offices rather than retail,” said Owen, adding that “you have lovely people here.”

The delegation came from communities in the southeastern region of the country. All gathered in London for the flight to the United States. Members of the delegation came from such communities as Isle of Wright, Waverly, Hurstpierpoint and Oxfordshire.

Other towns on their agenda include: Warrenton, Waynesboro, Staunton, Lynchburg and Culpeper. They also will spend some time in Richmond, meeting with state officials involved in revitalization projects.

Amy Yarcich, program manager with Virginia Main Street, said the group “wants to see firsthand what the Main Street programs have accomplished and how they can implement some of the successful ideas when they return back home.”

“It’s delightful to have you visit our city, which I believe is one of the most vibrant and progressive cities in the state. It’s a wonderful place in which to live, primarily because of its nice people,” Gillum said.

HMI Executive Director Tricia Davis said Owen, who has done preservation work for 30 years, set up the tour with Virginia Main Street. Owen stressed that he wanted Manassas to be the first city they visited. Manassas has been a Main Street city since 1988.

“He was here 11 years ago, liked what he saw and wanted to bring other officials involved in revitalization projects in their England communities to Virginia to see what we have done in the way of bringing life back to the downtown areas,” said Davis. “I think they all really had a good time in Manassas, as well as learning much from us.”

“I think we can all learn from each others’ successes … as well as mistakes,” Owen concluded.

There are 19 Main Street town and cities in the state, including Manassas, and to qualify they must have an executive director, board of directors, funding, support from the city/town officials and be declared by the governor.

Staff writer Bennie Scarton Jr. can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 125.

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