Blacksburg routinely ends up on lists of best college towns and best places to raise children. One of Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith’s ambitions, however, is that Blacksburg will also appear on lists for best places to start a business.

Hager-Smith was recently awarded a $5,000 Mayor’s Innovation Project Grant to transform 418 N. Main Street into an incubator space for local businesses that will incorporate equity-centered training, technical assistance, and mentorship programs. The property was bought by the town in 2014 for $900,000, and sits at a prominent location at Main Street and Alumni Mall, one of the gateways to Virginia Tech.

Blacksburg from above
The property (middle with long white roof) was acquired by the town in 2014 for $900,000 and sits at a prominent location between the commercial district and Virginia Tech’s campus. Image courtesy Town of Blacksburg.

Besides being a visible symbol of Blacksburg’s downtown turnaround after a challenging post-COVID recovery, the project will also contribute to Hager-Smith’s broader sustainability priorities for the town, which include USGBC LEED Silver certification for all municipal buildings greater than 5,000 square-feet, a climate action plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, and a 2020 Climate Vulnerability Assessment that looks to mitigate climate-related risks and boost equity within the community.

This year, Blacksburg’s adopted a new Comprehensive Plan that further aligns governance, sustainability, and infrastructure, among other critical areas with economic opportunities and initiatives. In 2021, it was among three cities recognized by the Mayors Innovation Project, a network of elected officials committed to sustainability and efficient governance. The grant is sponsored by AIA National as part of its ongoing Blueprint for Better campaign to drive awareness and action on carbon neutrality among design professionals, legislators, and civic leaders.

Clarksville, Tennessee and Eastpointe, Michigan round out this year’s grant cohort whose mayors will also benefit from recommendations and technical drawings from an architect, as well as the chance to present their projects at a future Mayor’s Innovation Project meeting.

About the author
William Richards is a writer and editorial consultant based in Washington, D.C. From 2007 to 2011, he was the Editor-in-Chief of Inform Magazine.