As the Toano Revitalization project moves forward, residents in the area can expect to see changes that combine both the old and new aspects of the community.
“We’ve got our history and that’s what’s moving us forward,” said Jack Wray, a developer leading the revitalization project with his brother Jeff Wray.
Their vision for Toano is making deliberate progress as he works toward garnering more awareness and attract more business to the area as the project moves forward. This past year, Wray succeeded in placing the Toano Commercial Historic District on the Virginia Landmarks Register and on the National Register of Historic Places as well as creating Toano Historical Society, which aims to preserve the small-town character of the community.
Most recently, Wray has demolished four blighted buildings on the south side of Route 60, which is the site of the Toano Station Project.
The next step is to start the rezoning process with James City County, after which the Wrays will be actively seeking businesses to fill spaces and pre-lease in the new Toano Station.
Wray said the project will create an area that resembles a Main Street “from the past,” Jack Wray said. This means preserving the historic look and feel of the location while interweaving modern elements.
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“We want to blend the new with the old so they complement each other,” said Rena Wray. “This happens in small towns all over the place where once you have spaces that need to be filled, what’s filled in will be architecturally complementary. So you don’t necessarily have modern building, but they have modern pieces.”
The renderings and moving images for the buildings have been created by John Hopke with Hopke & Associates.
Part of the success of the project comes from a master plan created by Allison Platt with Rivers and Associates in North Carolina. Following the creation of the master plan, the company economic leadership created a market assessment that determined certain factors that might contribute to a successful district.
One of the topics mentioned was that the area would benefit from a restaurant.
“The market study shows there is a desperate need for a good sit-down place,” Jack Wray said. “It has to be high-quality and local to the area. One good restaurant could change the atmosphere and perception of Toano.”
The study also suggested the area would benefit from businesses like a brewery, entertainment or lodging.
Development should be “slow and small,” the survey said, in order to prevent outpacing the market, and that’s just what Jack Wray plans to do.
“We’re building this little village from the ground up, so it’s a slow, but deliberate, process,” he said. “We will succeed with businesses based on unique local character with a mix of local uses.”
“It’s not a great big project to start with,” he added. “It’s small and, in other words, less is more. We’re not looking for any change, so the retail shops need to complement the unique and historic character of Toano in order to slowly become a destination.”
While the project is just getting started, Jack Wray said he is excited for some changes coming in the near future.
For example, he said there is going to be a Christmas light initiative where the buildings in the historic area will be lit-up for the holiday season.
Additionally, in the new year members of the board for the Toano Historical Society will gather to discuss plans for the area in 2020. Wray said one of his goals is to become an affiliate member of the Virginia Main Street Association, which helps localities to economically revitalize commercial districts, according to the organization’s website.
“We’re hoping we can find people that just want to be down there in this new historic district,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of new opportunities down there but we hope [the plans] will be a tool for us in attracting businesses.”