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Arlington gets $10K grant to promote Black history, businesses to tourists

A $10,000 state tourism grant will revamp how Arlington promotes its Black history to tourists.

Currently, the county’s tourism webpage outlines some of the important historic moments and existing landmarks. The landing page links to blog posts featuring Black businesses and artwork celebrating Arlington’s Black culture and history.

Travelers who want more can download a 68-page online tour guide last updated in 2016.

Arlington Convention and Visitors Service — the tourism division of Arlington Economic Development — wants to give the branding for these resources a facelift. And on Saturday, the Arlington County Board accepted a $10,000 grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation to fund these upgrades.

“The Black Arlington experience is an incredibly representative one of American history and we are really excited to welcome in more tourists to learn about those landmarks and narratives,” Board Chair Katie Cristol said during the Saturday meeting.

The changes would make it easier to plan a trip engaging with Arlington’s Black history and support its Black-owned businesses.

“One idea is to create a customized map that highlights sites and experiences that honor and commemorate Arlington’s Black history across the County as well as showcase Black-owned business locations,” said ACVS director Emily Cassell. “We’re also considering adding suggested itineraries for visitors.”

The grant will pay for fresh photos, a professional video of major sights and digital assets for social media.

How Arlington celebrates its Black history has changed since the last reprinting of the tour guide.

Nauck — a historically Black neighborhood named for a Confederate soldier — was renamed Green Valley in 2020. The Nauck Town Square was dubbed the John Robinson Jr. Town Square and construction there on a new plaza and sculpture wrapped up this spring.

Last summer, Lee Highway was renamed Langston Blvd and Arlington Public Schools unveiled panels at Dorothy Hamm Middle School honoring the four students who integrated the building — formerly Stratford Junior High School — six decades ago.

On Friday, the Black Heritage Museum celebrated its grand reopening in a new space at 3045B Columbia Pike.

Eventually, visitors will be able to see more historical reminders of Arlington’s Jim Crow era. The new Fire Station No. 8 (4845 Langston Blvd) will pay tribute to the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department, which served the historically Black neighborhood, and the forthcoming restaurant in the former Green Valley Pharmacy space will pay homage to the only lunch counter and pharmacy that served Black people during segregation.

Information like this is expected to migrate to a new tourism website that will go live next year.

“We are well into plans for a new website launching in 2023, and are actively working on improved and expanded tourism content across the board,” Cassell said. “We are very pleased that this new [funding] will help us enhance visitor experiences and better tell the story of Arlington’s African American heritage. We’re also thrilled with today’s ribbon cutting at The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington and look forward to our continued partnership.”

The grant will facilitate collaboration with other groups, too, including Arlington’s business improvement districts, neighborhood groups, libraries, the county’s Historic Preservation Program, Walk Arlington and Bike Arlington, according to the county report.

ACVS applied for the grant early this year as part of an effort to conduct strategic tourism planning as travel recovers from the pandemic, according to a county report. From February through May, ACVS heard from nearly 40 “local hospitality stakeholders” on ideas they thought could boost local tourism.

“Of numerous ideas considered, participants expressed enthusiasm for promoting visitor sites and experiences that showcase Arlington’s African American heritage,” the report said.

Other ideas for improving tourism, discussed in the report, include a more up-to-date calendar of events, more live music venues, and water taxi routes to Reagan National Airport, the Pentagon and Rosslyn.

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