By Tucker King – communications intern
Once known as a center for tobacco and textiles production, Danville has become much more. With new development and a revitalization of its downtown and warehouse districts, the city attracts lovers of art, food and entertainment alike.
“It’s very exciting to live in Danville right now,” said Jason Grey, director of utilities for the City of Danville. “I would describe Danville as a city in transition. For the past 100 years, Danville has been a tobacco and textile community, and now we’re in a more diverse economic base with various types of industry.”
An integral part of the downtown revitalization is the River District, which sits next to the Dan River and is home to many new restaurants, apartment complexes and venues, and is now one of the community’s biggest attractions. The city’s River District Association recently won the Great American Main Street Award, an award given by Main Street America, recognizing Danville’s excellence in downtown revitalization. The district’s Carrington Pavilion has hosted artists including Hank Williams Jr., the Zac Brown Band, Blake Shelton, Styx and more. The River District Art and Sculpture Tour invites visitors to view the many local murals and sculptures.
The city has worked to keep many of its historical buildings intact by restructuring the interiors for modern use, rather than building anew.
“There was a lot of investment into revitalizing the downtown and making an area for people to live and work and be entertained,” Grey said. “The White Mill project, for example, is a massive 500,000-square-foot building consisting of residential apartments and commercial space. It’s made possible through federal historic tax credits.”
The historic White Mill building was once home to Dan River Inc., a manufacturer of apparel fabrics, but it now serves as a shining example of the city’s redevelopment efforts. A prominent feature in the community for more than 100 years, the mill is being converted into a modern mixed-use space with apartments and commercial operations that will connect to the city’s new riverfront park.
New development is not limited to historic buildings. Danville has recently attracted a number of new commercial and industrial operations, including Tyson Foods, Goodyear Tires, Buitoni and more. These companies come to Danville in part because of the low operating costs and business-friendly tax structure that stem from the absence of inventory and local income tax, and because of the thriving community and its capable workforce.
One of the most exciting new economic development projects is the construction of a $650 million Caesars Casino that broke ground in 2022 and is set to open in 2024. A 40,000 square foot temporary casino was opened on May 15, 2023, adjacent to the site where the permanent hotel/casino is being built.
“Caesars will be a major tourism draw,” Grey said. “That’s going to be a 500-room hotel, casino and entertainment venue that will have approximately 1,100 employees and generate approximately $35 million a year in tax revenue for the city. We’re very happy to have them join our growing community.”
Just as the community of Danville has grown, so too has its public power utility. Danville Utilities was first established in 1886, and for many years the city was almost fully powered by the Pinnacles Hydroelectric Complex, a 3,600-acre, two-dam, 10-megawatt (MW) hydroelectric facility. That facility, which was sold in 2021, would now only power about 3 percent of its original service area. Today, Danville Utilities has approximately 1,500 miles of distribution line and 200 miles of transmission line, with a daily load of about 120 to 130 MW that can peak at about 200 MW. The electric system serves about 42,500 meters.
Danville is the largest municipal electric utility in Virginia, serving a 500-square mile area that extends well beyond the city’s borders. They now participate in five AMP projects in order to meet their customers’ electric demand, including the AMP Fremont Energy Center, Greenup Hydroelectric Plant, Meldahl Hydroelectric Plant, Phase I Hydro Project and Prairie State Energy Campus.
Currently, Danville is the only city in Virginia that serves residents with five different utility services, including electric, natural gas, telecommunication, water and wastewater.
“We offer more than one utility service, so businesses really like that we serve as a sort of one-stop shop,” said Janet Davis, key accounts manager for Danville Utilities. “Having all services available within on organization really assists with recruiting new industry and retaining current industry.”
“We have a robust system that is capable of serving new electric, water and natural gas load. This is good for the community because new load helps keep rates low and funds capital improvement projects,” Grey said. “We’re excited about the opportunity for the future and looking forward to what all of this redevelopment brings.”
The City of Danville is always looking for new ways to operate their utilities more efficiently and to lower costs. For example, the electric utility’s newest project — a 10.5-MW battery energy storage unit that is made up of more than 1,000 lithium-ion batteries — became operational in October 2022. The battery project was developed as a response to the city’s rising transmission costs. Ultimately, the city partnered with Delorean Power to construct the battery facility to help with peak shaving efforts.
“I think our customers appreciate what we do to help lower or stabilize energy costs,” Grey said. “The battery project will save our customers over $1.2 million this fiscal year.”
From working with potential new businesses to finding new, innovative solutions to lower prices and improve reliability, Danville Utilities keeps the community at the forefront of everything they do. Their efforts have helped Danville grow. City staff wants nothing more than to help the community be successful.
“We’re here to serve our community,” Grey said. “We are not looking to profit or make a return to a group of shareholders. We are focused on serving our customers, and we’ll keep doing that to the best of our ability.”
To learn more about the City of Danville, visit their website at www.danville-va.gov.
Read the original member profile in Amplifier.