Dumfries: “Home of the cherry tree story.” That’s how new Dumfries Mayor Derrick Wood wants to rebrand the town.
Parson Weems, who wrote George Washington’s biography, had a business in Dumfries in the 1700s. That building is now the Weems-Botts Museum.
“The goal now is to not have people drive through Dumfries but actually drive to Dumfries,” Wood said. “It’s about have a plan and marketing, identity rebranding. We can’t just be the oldest continuously chartered town.
“You can’t see that. You can’t feel that. You can’t smell that. You can’t taste it,” he said. “But, being home to a cherry tree story gives businesses a way to market their business as a nice little historic area. It gives them something they can touch, feel, taste and smell. It stimulates the senses. I think that is the key, to have a brand people can get behind.”
Once U.S. 1 is widened along Fraley Boulevard through the town, Wood envisions lining Main Street with cherry trees.
Wood, a six-year veteran of the Dumfries Town Council, officially took office in a swearing-in ceremony July 1.
Wood began his association with the town when he brought his barbecue business to one of the town’s farmers markets held in the town hall parking lot.
“We went from barbecuing in the town hall parking lot, to parking in the mayor’s spot,” Wood told the 250 people who turned out for his swearing-in.
Along with a new mayor, three new councilmembers were sworn in: Monae Nickerson, Cydny Neville and Selonia Miles.
New town hall
And they are not the only changes happening in Dumfries.
The Dumfries Police Department moved out of its space in the Triangle Shopping Center and into the Dumfries Town Center across the parking lot from the Dumfries Town Hall.
The town actually bought the building that houses the town center and plans to move the town hall into it as well.
Town officials knew for years the town’s operations had outgrown the town hall and recently finished a space-needs analysis. The council was given several options, which included the buying property next to the town hall and its community center with price tags ranging from $10 million to $13 million.
Before deciding how to proceed with a plan, the council was approached by the bank that had foreclosed on the Dumfries Town Center, the three-story brick structure built about 10 years ago, and asked the town if it wanted to buy it.
The town bought it for a little more than $5.1 million. The deal closed May 30. There are six tenants in the building. Their rent will pay the town’s mortgage.
“It was a no-brainer,” Wood said.
The town hall will take up half of the second floor. “It will be more than our space needs required,” Wood said. The study said the town needed about 10,000 square feet. The space on the second floor of the town center is more than 12,000 square feet.
The town set aside nearly $300,000 to outfit the space, but expects it will cost a lot less, said Dumfries Town Manager Rob Ritter. They hope to move into the space in September.
The town’s meeting was posted for the first time last week on Facebook Live as a quick fix after its audio visual system was recently struck by lightning.
“But Derrick wanted to start putting it on Facebook Live in the future anyway,” said Dumfries Town Attorney Kristi Caturano. “The younger generation isn’t going to watch it on public television because it’s harder. Derrick has been really good about ideas about the utilization of social media, economic development and the rebranding of the town.”
The town has three mixed-use development projects with retail on the first floor and housing above coming in different areas of the town. A fourth project working its way through the process is a new Pillar Church, which will replace the building that burned.
It also wants to add a senior living and community-center component. And there are a couple more projects in the pipeline.
“The energy in the town has changed. We are definitely getting more of the younger demographic engaged,” Wood said.
He said they are trying to bridge the Baby Boomer, Gen X and millennial generations.
“They want these town centers where they can hang out and eat. Strip malls are outdated. The challenge is to get the owners of those properties to want to make some changes.”
Reach Aileen Streng at email@example.com.