Main Street’s Approach to Commercial District Revitalization

The Main Street Approach is a community-driven, comprehensive methodology used to revitalize older, traditional business districts throughout the United States.  It is a common-sense way to address the variety of issues and problems that face traditional business districts.  The underlying premise of the Main Street approach is to encourage economic development within the context of historic preservation in ways appropriate to today’s marketplace. The Main Street Approach advocates a return to community self-reliance, local empowerment, and the rebuilding of traditional commercial districts based on their unique assets: distinctive architecture, a pedestrian-friendly environment, personal service, local ownership, and a sense of community. The Main Street Four-Point Approach™ is a comprehensive strategy that is tailored to meet local needs and opportunities. It encompasses work in four distinct areas — Design, Organization, Promotion, and Economic Restructuring — that are combined to address all of the commercial district’s needs. The philosophy and the Eight Guiding Principles behind this methodology make it an effective tool for community-based, grassroots revitalization efforts. The Main Street approach has been successful in communities of all sizes, both rural and urban. The Main Street approach is incremental; it is not designed to produce immediate change. Because they often fail to address the underlying causes of commercial district decline, expensive improvements, such as pedestrian malls or sports arenas, do not always generate the desired economic results. In order to succeed, a long-term revitalization effort requires careful attention to every aspect of downtown — a process that takes time and requires leadership and local capacity building.
The Main Street Four-Point Approach™ to commercial district revitalization

The National Trust Main Street Center offers a comprehensive commercial district revitalization strategy that has been widely successful in towns and cities nationwide. Described below are the four points of the Main Street approach which work together to build a sustainable and complete community revitalization effort.

Organization involves getting everyone working toward the same goal and assembling the appropriate human and financial resources to implement a Main Street revitalization program. A governing board and standing committees make up the fundamental organizational structure of the volunteer-driven program. Volunteers are coordinated and supported by a paid program director as well. This structure not only divides the workload and clearly delineates responsibilities, but also builds consensus and cooperation among the various stakeholders.

Promotion sells a positive image of the commercial district and encourages consumers and investors to live, work, shop, play and invest in the Main Street district. By marketing a district’s unique characteristics to residents, investors, business owners and visitors, an effective promotional strategy forges a positive image through advertising, retail promotional activity, special events and marketing campaigns carried out by local volunteers. These activities improve consumer and investor confidence in the district and encourage commercial activity and investment in the area.

Design means getting Main Street into top physical shape. Capitalizing on its best assets — such as historic buildings and pedestrian-oriented streets — is just part of the story. An inviting atmosphere, created through attractive window displays, parking areas, building improvements, street furniture, signs, sidewalks, street lights and landscaping, conveys a positive visual message about the commercial district and what it has to offer. Design activities also include instilling good maintenance practices in the commercial district, enhancing the physical appearance of the commercial district by rehabilitating historic buildings, encouraging appropriate new construction, developing sensitive design management systems, and long-term planning.

Economic Restructuring strengthens a community’s existing economic assets while expanding and diversifying its economic base. The Main Street program helps sharpen the competitiveness of existing business owners and recruits compatible new businesses and new economic uses to build a commercial district that responds to today’s consumers’ needs. Converting unused or underused commercial space into economically productive property also helps boost the profitability of the district.

Coincidentally, the four points of the Main Street approach correspond with the four forces of real estate value, which are social, political, physical, and economic.



The Main Street Philosophy: Eight Principles of Success

The National Trust Main Street Center’s experience in helping communities bring their commercial corridors back to life has shown time and time again that the Main Street Four-Point Approach succeeds. That success is guided by the following eight principles, which set the Main Street methodology apart from other redevelopment strategies. For a Main Street program to be successful, it must whole-heartedly embrace the following time-tested Eight Principles.

Comprehensive: No single focus (lavish public improvements, name-brand business recruitment, or endless promotional events) can revitalize Main Street. For successful, sustainable, long-term revitalization, a comprehensive approach, including activity in each of Main Street’s Four Points, is essential.

Incremental: Baby steps come before walking. Successful revitalization programs begin with basic, simple activities that demonstrate that “new things are happening “ in the commercial district. As public confidence in the Main Street district grows and participants’ understanding of the revitalization process becomes more sophisticated, Main Street is able to tackle increasingly complex problems and more ambitious projects. This incremental change leads to much longer-lasting and dramatic positive change in the Main Street area.

Self-help: No one else will save your Main Street. Local leaders must have the will and desire to mobilize local resources and talent. That means convincing residents and business owners of the rewards they’ll reap by investing time and money in Main Street ” the heart of their community. Only local leadership can produce long-term success by fostering and demonstrating community involvement and commitment to the revitalization effort.

Partnerships: Both the public and private sectors have a vital interest in the district and must work together to achieve common goals of Main Street’s revitalization. Each sector has a role to play and each must understand the other’s strengths and limitations in order to forge an effective partnership.

Identifying and capitalizing on existing assets: Business districts must capitalize on the assets that make them unique. Every district has unique qualities like distinctive buildings and human scale that give people a sense of belonging. These local assets must serve as the foundation for all aspects of the revitalization program.

Quality: Emphasize quality in every aspect of the revitalization program. This applies to all elements of the process ” from storefront designs to promotional campaigns to educational programs. Shoestring budgets and “cut and paste” efforts reinforce a negative image of the commercial district. Instead, concentrate on quality projects over quantity.

Change: Skeptics turn into believers and attitudes on Main Street will turn around. At first, almost no one believes Main Street can really turn around. Changes in attitude and practice are slow but definite ” public support for change will build as the Main Street program grows and consistently meets its goals. Change also means engaging in better business practices, altering ways of thinking, and improving the physical appearance of the commercial district. A carefully planned Main Street program will help shift public perceptions and practices to support and sustain the revitalization process.

Implementation: To succeed, Main Street must show visible results that can only come from completing projects. Frequent, visible changes are a reminder that the revitalization effort is under way and succeeding. Small projects at the beginning of the program pave the way for larger ones as the revitalization effort matures, and that constant revitalization activity creates confidence in the Main Street program and ever-greater levels of participation.



History of National Trust For Historical Preservation

What began in 1977 as an experiment with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to save three Midwestern downtown cities has grown to become a national movement of which Mississippi Main Street is very proud to be apart. Since 1980, thousands of communities throughout the nation have joined the Main Street program and applied its Four Point Approach with successful, lasting changes.  The Mississippi Main Street Communities are an excellent example of how the innovative framework of the Main Street Approach helps communities preserve their unique heritage while building a vibrant commercial district. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, thousands of downtowns fell by the wayside. While communities were securing mass construction in areas such as housing and highways, Main Street was undergoing mass destruction. Empty stores, boarded up buildings and deteriorating structures lined the streets that were once the social and commercial center of American Life.

By the late 1970s, community after community began to realize that modernization and progress left them with an empty space that downtown used to fill. Main Street as they knew it was gone and so was their sense of community. The desire to rekindle the lost community spirit was echoed across the country. Nationwide, efforts to take back Main Street were put in motion, but there was a desperate need for expertise and support. The need was soon filled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP). In 1980, after three years of pilot studies, the NTHP established the National Main Street Center to provide the support and encourage the revitalization of Main Street based on historic preservation and sound business practices. To date, 50 states and more than 1,800 communities participate in the Main Street Program nationwide.
History of Mississippi Main Street Association

In 1984, the State of Mississippi made the first attempt to start a Main Street program. This effort resulted in the designation of nine communities that were to receive technical assistance and guidance from the state program. An earlier budget crisis caused the collapse of this effort, leaving these nine communities with local programs and managers but no level assistance from a statewide program.

Leaders and managers from these nine communities began communicating with each other, ultimately resulting in the creation of the Mississippi Downtown Development Association, a nonprofit organization. This provided an opportunity for these towns to band together, trying to solve their problems through this statewide association. However, lack of funding and staff made this organization a loosely knit core of volunteers and only fulfilled limited networking needs. Dedicated members of MDDA continued to pursue possible sources of funding for the much-needed state Main Street program. In July 1989, MDDA was successful in contracting with the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development to develop and implement a statewide Main Street program.

Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) was created to provide technical assistance to member towns, which focused on issues embraced by the 4-Point Approach of Main Street - Organization, Promotion, Design and Economic Restructuring – that are designed to match resources available in their communities. The board hired Scott Barksdale, a downtown revitalization professional with 11 years experience both at the local and state level, as Executive Director to develop and implement a Main Street program. In March and April 1990, five application workshops were held across the state. More than 120 people representing 80 communities attended these workshops. In June 1990, the MDDA Board of Directors selected six official cities as demonstration communities for this program. At the same time, they pledged to continue working with the previously designated cities that had managed to keep their programs operating. In 1993, Beverly Meng was hired from South Carolina Main Street to be Executive Director of MMSA. Under Beverly’s tenure, the Main Street program grew rapidly from 16 programs to more than 40 programs. In 1998, Bob Wilson joined the staff as Director of Program Services. Upon Beverly’s retirement in 2007, Bob Wilson was named Executive Director. As of 2008, MMSA has 56 Member Communities with active, participating programs as well as 26 Associate Member towns. With this rapid growth, MMSA has expanded its own staff to meet the needs and demands of the many programs. Since 2005, the MMSA staff has added five full-time positions to expand its services offered to the communities and keep up with their needs. Because of a strong Board of Directors and committed partners and coordinated efforts, MMSA has been successful in assisting with the creation of more than 1,000 new businesses and thousands of new jobs in the central business districts of towns and cities across the state. MMSA has been recognized by the National Main Street Center on numerous occasions as the Number One Coordinating Main Street Program. By utilizing MMSA’s expertise, resources and technical assistance, once badly deteriorating downtowns are becoming vibrant and viable, and are taking their rightful place as the heart, center and core of their communities.
History of Tupelo Main Street

The fall of 1990 marked the opening of the regional shopping mall, The Mall at Barnes Crossing and the City of Tupelo’s purchase of the former Downtown Mall property which was in the design phase of a 14 million dollar re-development project to convert the former mall into a coliseum and conference center in downtown Tupelo. The face of retail activity in downtown Tupelo was going to change and company was coming to downtown. What would this mean to the area? Would downtown Tupelo be able to capitalize on this new development or would the project become a stand alone destination in downtown Tupelo? Business leaders determined that these two milestones should be embraced but additional measures should be taken to maintain the importance of Tupelo’s central business district and its place in the local economy. Research led business leaders to the initiatives of the Mississippi Downtown Development Association who through a newly created Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA), would provide technical assistance to member towns, which focused on issues embraced by the 4-Point Approach of Main Street – Design, Organization, Promotion, and Economic Restructuring, designed to match resources available in local communities. In June of 1990, the reorganized Mississippi Downtown Development Association, in a competitive application process, selected Tupelo from some 80 communities across the state as one of six official cities to be a demonstration community for the state Main Street initiative. A key to this successful designation was Tupelo’s successful leveraging of local resources in the form of a public-private partnership with the Uptown Tupelo Association, CDF, CREATE and the City of Tupelo; the city providing the salary and benefits for a director and in-kind office space within the Department of Planning and Community Development and being matched with a 3 year commitment by the Uptown Association, CDF and CREATE for operating capital to establish the Main Street program. In 1999, the program moved from City Hall to 108 South Broadway. The move was pivotal in the success of the program by bringing the association to a store front location. Providing easy access to constituents, the association has seen a significant increase in volunteer participation and community partnerships. The Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, an award winning program for the state, has garnered many successful initiatives. Among those initiatives has come the redevelopment of the former fairgrounds property, Fairpark, a progressive mixed-use expansion of the downtown central business district, the Tupelo Elvis Festival, the Downtown Tupelo Farmers Market and Chili Fest. Additional initiatives include the continuation of the CDF Christmas Parade, now the Reed’s Tupelo Christmas Parade; a weekly e-news letter, promotional partnerships with retail merchants, educational seminars on design, technical design assistance, and a master landscape design plan for Main Street that will begin implementation in 2009. Over the course of the 19 year program, the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association in partnership with local business owners, individuals the City of Tupelo and Lee County has seen over 89 millions dollars in private construction investment and 43 million dollars in public construction and infrastructure investment in the downtown district. The association has seven working committees with a staff of four.