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Fredericksburg earns federal grant to add stage, bathroom to Riverfront Park

By MADISON BROWN
Fredericksburg Today

The City of Fredericksburg announced Tuesday that it won a $1.2 million grant to improve the new Riverfront Park on Sophia Street with a stage and bathrooms.

The money comes out of a $240 million competitive grant program created by the American Rescue Plan Act to help communities rebuild their tourism industries after COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. These competitive grants fund 80% of the projects to which they are awarded, so the grant will be matched with $300,000 in city funds. The city’s expense was earmarked in the FY23 budget in anticipation of the grant.

“[Riverfront Park] is great already, this will just make it better,” says Bill Freehling, the city’s director of economic development and tourism. “We’re just thankful for the USEDA, for the competitive process, and we’re thankful that we rose to the top.”

Riverfront was built with the expectation that the stage and bathroom facilities would be added eventually, and the necessary plumbing and electrical infrastructure is already in place. The federal investment will ensure the improvements are completed as early as fall 2023. 

“We always had it planned that there would someday be a stage and there would someday be restrooms [at Riverfront Park],” Freehling explains. “The grant lets us do it sooner. I think if we hadn’t gotten the grant, at some point, we would’ve done it anyway. We would’ve found some way to do it.”

Illustrative plan for Riverfront’s upcoming developments.

Bathroom facilities will resemble those at Hurkamp and Kenmore Parks. 

The stage will be covered and equipped with lighting. Freehling expects it to primarily be a venue for concerts. It will also be used for city-sponsored events and festivals and will be available for private use such as weddings. 

Freehling anticipates the stage becoming a new city landmark. “I think it will be an iconic backdrop for a photo, too. With the Chatham bridge and the park in the background. I could see it being the background for movies.”

The city estimates that the project will “create 150 jobs and retain 150 jobs.” In a USEDA press release, Governor Glenn Youngkin and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine praised the project for creating jobs in Virginia. Most of these anticipated jobs are only indirectly tied to Riverfront Park. 

“Most of [the job creation], really, is from offshoot development that we expect to happen downtown,” says Freehling. “For example, the Hanover House project is being developed there, not exclusively because of the Riverfront Park, but that’s a big part of the attraction.”

Freehling also hopes the project will attract customers to existing businesses near the park. “Someone may go to the park and then head over to the Italian Station to get coffee and gelato. Now, Italian Station’s doing better, so they hire a couple of extra people.

“[The estimate] is not super scientific, it’s just that [the park] is going to help sustain our tourism economy. When you have people visiting, going to shows, going to stay in rooms, going to shop, going to eat, that creates jobs and it retains the jobs that already exist.”

Tourism accounts for a significant chunk of the city’s annual revenues, and Freehling estimates that this income was reduced by 25% in 2020. The Riverfront improvement is a piece of the city’s ongoing recovery. 

Construction of the stage and bathroom is set to begin in fall 2022. The facilities will be complete and available for public use in late 2023.

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