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Main Street is a national movement that began in 1980 and has since taken root in more than 2,000 communities - a movement that has spurred $49 billion in reinvestment in traditional commercial districts, galvanized thousands of volunteers, and changed the way governments, planners, and developers view preservation. Over the years, the National Main Street Center has overseen the development of a national network of coordinating programs that today includes statewide programs, citywide programs, and regional programs. These coordinating programs help cities, towns, and villages revitalize their downtown and neighborhood business districts. Coordinating program staff help build the capacity of local Main Street programs, expand the network of Main Street communities, provide resources and technical assistance, and work with the National Main Street Center to explore new solutions to revitalization challenges and respond to emerging trends throughout the nation.
Since the inception of the National Main Street Center® in 1980, Main Street coordinating programs have worked in partnership with the Main Street Center to help communities implement the Main Street Four-Point Approach®. The Main Street Center established the coordinating program model and scope of services early on and has been involved with the development of every coordinating program in the nation. The cumulative work of Main Street coordinating programs has facilitated incremental local improvements that have led to substantial revitalization of downtowns and neighborhood business districts across the United States. Louisiana established its coordinating program in 1984.
State, city, and regional Main Street coordinating programs provide participating local Main Street organizations with the training, tools, information, and networking they need to be successful. Structured within government programs or nonprofit organizations, coordinating programs are positioned to give local Main Street programs professional advice and guidance in using the proven Main Street Four-Point Approach® to start or strengthen their revitalization efforts.
While each Main Street coordinating program seeks to meet the needs of its clients, the primary functions of the program are to:
One of the primary activities of a coordinating program is to identify local needs and provide corresponding on-site consulting and training services. These services – often delivered in partnership with the National Main Street Center or other specialists – help establish local programs strategies, plan revitalization, develop detailed implementation plans, and solve specific problems in a Main Street district. Coordinating programs also provide advice and guidance directly to local Main Street staff and volunteers about a variety of revitalization topics and issues.
Main Street coordinating programs offer other types of assistance as well. They facilitate networking among local Main Street programs so they can share successful strategies and lessons learned through the revitalization process. Many coordinating programs work to raise public awareness about the importance of Main Street revitalization and promote public policy that supports Main Street. Many work with other public and private programs, such as Small Business Development Centers and federal, state, and regional agencies, to channel additional services and resources to meet the needs of Main Street communities. Some coordinating programs – particularly citywide Main Street programs – also provide funding for the operation and/or project budgets of local Main Street programs.
The staffing, services, and funding of Main Street coordinating programs vary, but each program has, at a minimum, a full-time professional coordinator, usually someone with strong organizational and communications skills and experience in at least two of the four work areas of the Main Street approach. Most coordinating programs have additional staff or contractors who provide specific services and specialized assistance to local programs. Many coordinating programs retain an architect to deliver basic design assistance to participating local programs, while others have staff or contractors who offer marketing and business development services.
Main Street coordinating programs provide information and feedback to the National Main Street Center on issues and trends in the field as well as data compiled about their local programs. They also serve as the Center’s conduit for disseminating the principles and practices of the Main Street Four-Point Approach®. The National Main Street Center annually signs a Trademark License Agreement with each coordinating program to permit and delegate the use of the Main Street name, brand, methodology. In order to be recognized as a Main Street Coordinating Program Partner, a coordinating program must meet the 10 criteria for coordinating programs.
Local Main Street Programs
Local Main Street programs are structured in a variety of ways. Most often, they are freestanding, nonprofit organizations. Others are part of an existing organization, such as a community development corporation (CDC), a business improvement district (BID), or another economic development organization. Regardless of where the community's Main Street program is housed, it must be a volunteer-driven effort that has support and participation from a variety of stakeholders in the revitalization effort.
Each local Main Street program establishes a broad-based governing board that includes a variety of representatives from the community. Typically represented are business and property owners, residents, city officials, financial institutions, schools, religious institutions, civic groups, preservationists, media, etc. The board (or steering committee in an existing organization) guides policy, funding, and planning for Main Street. An average-sized Main Street program usually has 40 to 60 active volunteers working on revitalization planning and implementation. Smaller downtown districts may have fewer active volunteers.
Local Main Street programs also establish committees that correspond to the four points of the Main Street approach — Organization, Design, Promotion, and Economic Restructuring. Committees consist of five to 10 people, on average, who plan and implement activities in each of the four points. Depending on the circumstances of the commercial district, the program may also create issue-oriented task forces, such as a Parking Task Force.
The local Main Street program hires a director to manage the program, coordinate volunteers, assist with program implementation, and act as a primary spokesperson for the organization. Staff members report to the governing board/steering committee. Depending on local needs and resources, the organization may hire more than one staff member. Often, additional staff will focus on a specific aspect of the revitalization effort, such as business development, property development, or coordination of promotional activities.
Local Program Organizational Structure
Local Main Street programs are usually housed in a nonprofit corporation established expressly to revitalize the commercial district or in an existing nonprofit organization. A freestanding Main Street organization has a high level of autonomy, remaining accountable only to the community it serves, its funders, and its volunteers. Staff reports directly to the board of directors. (See Figure A)
As part of an existing organization, the program can maintain relative autonomy, but must coordinate projects and fund-raising efforts with the parent organization. Similarly, Main Street staff in an existing organization often must report indirectly (or directly) to the parent organization’s executive director. (See Figure B)