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Renovation of Opera House Alley, a public alley adjacent the Ferrell Historic Lofts on Main Street, joins a growing list of completed River District projects.
The renovation included replacing roof drains with underground drains and replacing the broken asphalt and uneven walking surface with a smooth layer of brick pavers.
“Before the renovation, we would receive complaints that people were afraid to walk through the alley at night,” said Karen Black, chief engineer for the city of Danville Public Works Department. “By cleaning it up, it now is more attractive and inviting.”
Opera House Alley and other alleys along Main Street serve as important pedestrian connectors by providing pathways from parking areas on Patton Street to Main Street storefronts.
However, the parking consulting firm Carl Walker Inc. pointed in its 2013 study of the River District to the problems with Opera House Alley. The problems included the lack of a clear pathway and the tripping hazards along the alley. In addition, the study suggested entry points could be enhanced with landscaping and greenery.
Black developed the plans and specifications for the renovation. For the pathway surface, she chose a combination of Pine Hall brick pavers and Cambridge Tumbled pavers as used previously in the plaza area at the corner of Main Street and Memorial Drive.
The city set aside $48,000 in capital improvement funds for the project. Quality Construction was awarded the construction contract as the qualified low bidder for the renovation.
Construction began in early October.
A marker at the Main Street entrance tells the story of how “Opera House Alley” became the common name for the alley when the Danville Opera House was standing at 541 Main St. According to the information on the marker, this auditorium, also called the “Academy of Music,” was one of several that operated downtown in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The site later served as home of the Majestic Theater and later the Virginia Theater. The hotel and auditorium were demolished after the closure of the Virginia Theater in 1960.
In addition to renovating Opera House Alley, the city in 2014 completed two phases of streetscape improvements; added a trailhead; installed public, outdoor Wi-Fi connections; and opened the Fire Department’s new headquarters and 9-1-1 emergency communications center in the River District.
Prior to 2014, the city had adopted design guidelines for the look and feel of buildings in the district, changed traffic patterns to enhance movement through downtown, opened a new parking lot on Main Street, and conducted a parking study for the full district.
In 2015, more is to come.
Designs are complete for a pedestrian lane on the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge to connect the new trailhead on the south side of the river to the walking trail on the other side of the river. Construction will begin in the spring.
Public restrooms are planned to be built adjacent the plaza and trailhead, and the next phase of streetscape improvements is under development, with construction scheduled to start in the summer.
Also in 2015, a branding platform for the River District will be unveiled and vehicular and pedestrian wayfinding signage will be put into place.