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

Fredericksburg today

The city of Fredericksburg announced Tuesday that it has received a $1.2 million grant to improve the new Riverfront Park on Sophia Street with a stage and restrooms.

The money comes from a competitive $240 million grant program created by the American Rescue Plan Act to help communities rebuild their tourism industries after the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. These competitive grants fund 80% of the projects they are awarded for, so the grant is matched with $300,000 in city funds. City spending was earmarked in anticipation of the grant in the FY23 budget.

“[Riverfront Park] It’s already great, it’s only going to make it better,” said Bill Freehling, the city’s director of economic development and tourism. “We’re just grateful for USEDA, for the competitive process, and we’re grateful that we’ve risen to the top.”

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

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

Illustrative plan for upcoming Riverfront developments.

Sanitary facilities will be similar to those at Hurkamp and Kenmore Parks.

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

Freehling expects the stage to become a new city landmark. “I think it will also be an iconic backdrop for a photo. With the Chatham Bridge and park in the background. I could imagine it being the backdrop for movies.”

The city estimates that the project will “create 150 jobs and preserve 150 jobs.” in one USEDA press releaseGovernor Glenn Youngkin and Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine commended the Virginia job creation project. Most of these anticipated jobs are only indirectly related to Riverfront Park.

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

Freehling also hopes the project will attract customers for existing businesses near the park. “Someone might go to the park and then to the Italian train station for coffee and gelato. Italian Station is doing better now, so they’re hiring some extra people.

“[The estimate] isn’t super scientific, it’s just that [the park] will help sustain our tourism economy. When people come to visit, go to shows, stay in rooms, go shopping, eat out, it creates jobs and sustains the jobs that already exist.”

Tourism accounts for a significant portion of the city’s annual revenue, and Freehling estimates that revenue fell by 25% in 2020. The riverfront improvement is part of the city’s ongoing recovery.

The start of construction for the stage and bath is planned for autumn 2022. By the end of 2023, the facilities will be completed and open to the public.

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