ACCOMACK: Whitesville Beautification Project ‘can’t be overhyped’

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Whitesville

BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

The Whitesville Beautification Project aims to remove derelict buildings in an Accomack County neighborhood, providing a blueprint for similar projects in other parts of the county.

At its halfway point, the pilot program is a striking success, said Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason.

“The impact can’t be overhyped on this if you ask me,” Mason said in a presentation to the board of supervisors last month. “I’ve toured these facilities and I’ve seen the work, and it’s going really well.”

The effort is underway thanks to a partnership between the county, which provided funding, and the Davis Center Community Foundation, which is managing the project.

The $150,000 program will remove at least 11 abandoned structures and restore properties in Whitesville, near Parksley, before it is due to end this November.

To date, local contractor Hines and Harris has restored five properties.

“It’s near and dear to our hearts to bring Whitesville back to her previous glory,” said Aya Ofunniyin, executive director and board chair of the Davis Center.

“They’re not only unsafe — they’re unsightly,” she said of the abandoned buildings in the neighborhood where she grew up. “It was taking away from the beauty of the community that we all grew up with.”

The derelict building removal program began in 2022, when Accomack County included funding in its annual budget to demolish and remove unsafe structures — one of the recommendations in the 2022 Eastern Shore of Virginia Regional Housing Study.

The partnership between the county and the Davis Center was born that November, less than two years after the center opened in October 2021.

“We ran a pretty aggressive campaign to open the Davis Center and received some grant funding from several state organizations, and that’s what put us on the map with Accomack County to be able to manage larger grants,” Ofunniyin said.

She called the effort to open the center a “labor of love” for her and her three sisters, who created the facility in honor of their grandfather, Willie Davis, at the site of his former pool hall.

The Davis Center created a proposal for how to achieve the derelict building removal project and signed a memorandum of understanding with Accomack that included a list of structures to be demolished and a timeline to achieve the project’s goals. Work began in February, Ofunniyin said.

The pilot will provide a blueprint for future efforts to remove abandoned buildings in other parts the county. The board of supervisors appropriated another $150,000 for a similar project in the new fiscal year, which began July 1.

“Once we get through with this one and we document our lessons learned and convert that to some policy, then we’ll be ready for whatever the next round looks like,” Mason said.

Each property has taken an average of three to four weeks to complete, including excavation work in some cases, according to Mason.

In addition to demolishing unsafe buildings in the neighborhood, the project provides benefits such as improved curb appeal and green space, increased community engagement, and potential for increased tax revenue for the county.

It is just one of the community services the Davis Center is providing.

The volunteer-run facility has a technology center with four computers for public use, conference space, a private study for tutoring, and a special collection library centered on Black authors and interests.

The center has offered special classes such as financial workshops, weekly senior citizen game days, and space for outside events.

Most importantly, Ofunniyin said, the Davis Center acts as a community hub for sharing information directly with community members, such as about senior citizen programs for food vouchers.

The facility operates entirely on donations and grants. 

“It’s an entire family effort,” Ofunniyin said. “We are fully committed to keeping this center operational for as long as possible on grants and donations without charging the public to use the space.”

She said taking on the Whitesville Beautification Project helps improve the community where she grew up.

“We just wanted to do something to give back to the community,” Ofunniyin said.

Visit www.daviscenteresva.org to learn more about the Davis Center and opportunities to donate or volunteer at the community center in Whitesville. 

The center is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. or by appointment for events.

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