What is Main Street Maine?
Square One is a new initiative from the Maine Downtown Center , which in turn administers the Main Street Maine Program. Square One is a 12-month program geared towards helping communities organize their downtown revitalization program and start promoting their downtown. In Main Street , we work on organization and promotion as well as economic restructuring and design. After running the Main Street Maine program for several years, the Maine Downtown Center felt like it needed to do a better job working with communities to get them ready for a full Main Street Maine program. The Square One initiative in Livermore Falls is MSM's pilot program. With Square One, MSM works with community volunteers and does not require a town to hire a downtown manager. With the Main Street program, we make a three year commitment to provide full technical assistance/consulting to a community, with the requirement that the community hire a downtown manager. Square One communities receive much of the same support, direction and resources as a Main Street Maine Community.
Learn more about
Square One here
The Main Street Approach to Downtown Revitalization
The Main Street Approach – An Overview
The Main Street Approach® was developed by the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a partner of The Maine Downtown Center. The 1700 local Main Street® programs in over 40 states who have adopted this preservation-based approach have realized $17.0 billion dollars in reinvestment in their downtown commercial districts.
While commercial district revitalization can be addressed in many ways, the underlying premise of the Main Street approach is to encourage economic development, within the context of historic preservation that is appropriate to today's market place. This approach advocates a return to community self-reliance, empowerment, and the rebuilding of commercial districts based on its traditional assets: unique architecture, personal service, local ownership, and a sense of community.
The Main Street approach is incremental and will not produce wholesale, immediate change. Expensive improvements, such as pedestrian malls constructed with once plentiful public funds, often fail to address the underlying causes of commercial district decline and do not always produce the desired economic results. If a long-term revitalization effort is to succeed, it will require careful attention to every aspect of Downtown – a process that takes time and requires leadership and local capacity building. The Main Street program should be seen as one of many tools that a community utilizes to generate economic and entrepreneurial growth. Also, while they may be an important component of an overall plan for downtown revitalization, communities should not confuse substantial public improvement projects for the Main Street program.
A local Main Street program is not designed to tackle the bigger issues of an entire community. The focus is limited to the revitalization of the central business district. This certainly takes into account that a healthy, economically viable, and attractive Downtown is important to the community at-large's overall health and vitality, and vice versa.
Both the public and private sectors of the community must be involved and committed for a local Main Street program to succeed. Each sector has an important role to play and each must understand the other's needs, strengths and limitations so that an effective partnership can be created.
The National Main Street Center's Four Point Approach
The Main Street methodology addresses the following four areas of concern and combines activities in these areas to develop a community's individual strategy for redeveloping Downtown. They are organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring.
The Main Street approach to Downtown revitalization requires the effort of the entire community. The merchants, property owners, local government officials, and civic leaders must agree to support common goals for revitalization and join together in a partnership. The Downtown development organization and the local Main Street Executive Director are key players. A local Executive Director is necessary to act as an advocate for the Downtown and to coordinate the various efforts of individuals and groups to ensure that all are working together to develop the Downtown.
The promotion of the Downtown as a single, unified commercial area – in the same way that a major shopping mall is promoted – will help attract customers and strengthen Main Street's role as a viable business center. The Downtown organization can coordinate an aggressive promotion and marketing campaign that includes a program of special events and business promotions. If it is to thrive, the Downtown must improve both its self-image and the image it projects to potential customers and investors.
Good design is essential to all aspects of Downtown revitalization. The Main Street design philosophy is not a “purist” preservation approach, but one that seeks to utilize and enhance those elements of quality design that remain in each building. Good design must be extended to include promotional literature, store window and merchandise displays, public building improvements, and street amenities.
Economic restructuring seeks to change the ways in which Downtown “works” by restoring many of the elements that Main Street has lost over the past few decades. While many small Downtowns may not regain their dominance as primary retail centers, careful economic and market analysis usually confirms that they can maintain economic strength by diversifying the present mix of retail uses and by attracting new retail and non-retail functions, including office, recreation, services, and residential uses. Retail and business retention and recruitment, development of effective merchandising techniques, encouraging entrepreneurial reuse of upper stories for Downtown housing and office space, and better utilization of existing and potential recreational assets are all aspects of economic restructuring.
Successful Main Street programs are usually structured as a non-profit corporation guided by an active working board. Four standing committees that correspond to the four points develop projects and work plans for implementation. Local programs hire a paid director to help coordinate the efforts of volunteers and implement the program.
The Four Point Approach relies on Eight Principles to produce fundamental change in traditional commercial business districts:
The Main Street Approach is comprehensive
A single project cannot revitalize a downtown. An ongoing series of initiatives can build community support and create lasting progress.
The Main Street Approach is incremental in nature
Small projects can make a big difference. They hone the skills and confidence of program participants and demonstrate to onlookers that things are happening on Main Street.
Main Street requires local commitment
Although the Maine Downtown Center can provide valuable assistance, local leadership, and community involvement are what make for long-term success.
A public/private partnership is needed to make meaningful, long-term revitalization possible.
Both the public and private sectors of the community must be involved and committed for a local Main Street program to succeed. Each sector has an important role to play, and each must understand the other's needs, strengths, and limitations so that an effective partnership can be created.
The Main Street Approach focuses on existing assets.
A crucial first step is to identify the assets that make a particular downtown unique. Capitalizing on these assets provides the solid foundation for a successful Main Street initiative.
The Main Street Approach relies on quality.
Quality must be the goal in every aspect of renewal, from storefront design to promotional campaigns. Quality builds respect and confidence.
The Main Street Approach involves changing attitudes.
Bringing back Main Street requires changing people's attitudes and behavior as well as the environment. Community members must learn to see Main Street as a viable center of commercial and civic activity and then must incorporate Main Street into their regular routines.
The Main Street Approach is implementation oriented.
Frequent, visible changes in the look and activities of the commercial district will reinforce the perception of positive change. Small, but dramatic improvements early in the process will remind the community that the revitalization effort is under way.
Links to further reading:
Here's an interesting article about rural downtown redevelopment efforts, parking, and the Main Street approach.