Want to Start a Main Street Program?

So what’s it take for a community to create a new Main Street program from scratch here in Minnesota?mn main street logo

It’s not quick. It’s not easy. And it’s a program, not a project. Main Street programs are a long term commitment that a community makes to revitalizing and maintaining their Main Street – or traditional commercial district.  Volunteers managed by a staff person leverage the unique assets of their Main Street, including their historic buildings, to incrementally revitalize the district.

In many communities, it starts with one person with contagious excitement about the potential of Main Street.  They gather up a core group of people representing some of the various stakeholders in Main Street.  Who are those stakeholders? The short answer is everyone.  The longer answer includes:

Residents; Property owners; Business owners (in the Main Street area -– and yes – outside of it too.); Local government elected officials and staff; Chamber of Commerce board and staff; Community organizations (Kiwanis, churches, Habitat for Humanity, historical society, youth groups); Leaders from local banks and credit unions, large employers, and utility companies; Local media.

This core group of people then becomes local experts in the Main Street Four Point Approach®.  They do this by:

Once they (you) feel confident in their knowledge, it’s time to call the whole community together.  To do this well (i.e. get people to attend), it may be necessary to provide food and some childcare.  Here the core group of people (remember, they’re local experts now) presents information about the Main Street Approach, showing off some of the great potential their own town has.  They may have invited a staff person or board member from a nearby Main Street Community to talk about their own experiences.  Now that the information has been presented, the time has come for the attendees (who are representing the whole community) to decide if this is something they want to explore further.

If the answer is yes, it’s time for the core group of local experts to expand.  People at the community meeting who are interested join the investigative task force (or something similar with a better, shorter name) and are tasked with making a recommendation for if and how a Main Street program will be formed in their community.  How do they (you) do this?

  • Review the materials again, this time thinking more closely about how it would work in your town.
  • Call Minnesota Main Street to tell them you’re considering adopting this revitalization model and find out how they can help.
  • Visit another Main Street community to see what works, what doesn’t work, and get the nitty gritty details on how they “get stuff done.”
  • Walk around your Main Street district with fresh eyes.  What has great potential? What needs a lot of work? Also, what will the boundaries of your Main Street district be (big enough to be inclusive, not so big that the effort is diluted)?
  • Talk with as many groups in your community as you can to get their input and tell them where you are in the process. Including people before the decision is made will make the projects later on much easier and more effective.

Now that you’re just on the verge of too much information, it’s time for the final (or is it just the beginning?) big community meeting – with special invitations to community leaders. The expanded core of local experts presents on what they learned, how they think it applies to their town, and their recommendation for how to proceed.  Assuming the people at the meeting recommend proceeding with the formation of a local Main Street program, they then make the first ask for donations and volunteers.

From there, the steps are more in line with the general creation of a non-profit for which numerous resources exist in Minnesota.

When you’re ready, make sure to apply to officially become a Designated Main Street program. We understand that this is a lot of work for a community to undertake.  Becoming an Associate Member is a stepping stone on the path, created especially to help you along.

Questions? Contact Emily Northey, Minnesota Main Street Program Coordinator, at (651) 262-8770 or by email at enorthey@mnpreservation.org.  Also published in the Minnesota Preservationist.

The Minnesota Main Street Program is recognized by the National Trust Main Street Center® as the official statewide coordinating program in Minnesota.   Minnesota Main Street has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.

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