Starting a Downtown Program

Steps for Starting a Comprehensive Downtown Program

Communities and programs wishing to start a comprehensive downtown program using the Main Street Four-Point Approach® should use the following steps:

Stage 1: Investigate and Gain Support

It is absolutely crucial to have the support of the community before launching a comprehensive downtown program. You will need to:

  • Put together a core committee of people who can talk with fellow downtown business and property owners about the idea of forming a downtown organization. Members of this committee should be committed to thoroughly investigating the program.
  • Talk with the city, chamber of commerce, local economic development departments, and other organizations to gauge local interest, gather input, and build support.
  • Hold a town-hall style meeting to educate the public about downtown revitalization and the Four-Point Approach. Decide whether or not to continue investigating a new Main Street program. The meeting should be well-attended, with 50 to 100 people. Contact the local media ahead of time and invite them to attend—a sample press release is on page 73.
Trainging meeting in Red Wing, 2010

Main Street Basic Training 2010, Red Wing, MN (Designated Main Street Member)

  • •Visit existing Main Street programs and learn about their use of the Main Street Approach. MMS staff can provide a list of Main Street communities in your region and of similar size.
  • Share your findings and decide to continue at a second public meeting. This meeting should include everyone who attended the first town-hall meeting, and may also include MMS staff as speakers. Here, you will vote on whether or not to proceed to the Main Street application stage. There should be consensus among local government, development groups, downtown property and business owners, industry, service organizations, and so on. Everyone should be aware that they must support the Main Street philosophy, as well as the financial aspects of the program. Be clear that Main Street is not a quick fix—it is a long-term development program that requires full community involvement.


Stage 2: Lay the Foundation

Once you have enough interest and consensus to move ahead with the program, you will need to identify possible board members and supporters, as well as outline broad goals for the organization.

Create an interim board of directors with 5-9 people. This board should:

  • Determine the primary focus areaof your organization. Ask, “where should we concentrate our efforts to achieve maximum success?”  The following criteria may help you decide on the physical boundaries of your Main Street district:
    • •Centrality: Is the area a traditional central business district or center for social and economic interaction?
    • •Heritage: Is the area characterized by a cohesive core of historic or significant commercial and mixed-use buildings that represent the community’s architectural and cultural heritage?
    • •Arrangement: Is the area arranged with most of the buildings side-by-side along a main street with intersecting side streets?
    • •Scale: Is the area compact, easily walkable, and pedestrian-friendly?
  • Develop a budget and identify sources of funding. Sample budgets are provided on pages 74 and 75 of this handbook.
  • Find office space to house your program


Stage 3: Plan and Register

Your next step will be to plan and register your organization. Minnesota Main Street can help you with this process, but it may be helpful to seek the assistance of an attorney.

  • Choose a name for the organization. Keep this name simple, straightforward and businesslike—save catchy and cute for tag lines and promotional campaigns.  You will find a list of sample names and logos on page 32 of this handbook. This name must be unique, so be sure to check the availability of your proposed name using the Name Availability Search on the Minnesota Secretary of State website.
  • Register your organization’s name with the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office and pay the $35 registration fee. Use the Request for Reservation of Name Form available on the Secretary of State website.
  • Draft articles of incorporation that formally state your organization’s name, location, and purpose. You may want to use the sample articles of incorporation provided by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits website, or the Sample Charter available on the IRS website as a guide. Please have this document reviewed by an attorney before filing with the IRS and Minnesota Secretary of State.
  • File as a Minnesota nonprofit corporation with the Secretary of State’s Office and pay the $70 registration fee. Your articles of incorporation can be submitted electronically through the Secretary of State’s Express Services Filing page.
  • Create a business plan that outlines the goals, activities and structure of your organization. This should also include a preliminary budget that identifies probable expenditures and sources of funding. Your business plan will be useful for pointing your organization in the right direction, and may serve as a handy reference when you file for exempt status with the IRS.
  • Draft corporate bylaws. These are the internal operating rules for your organization, and should address issues like membership, meeting procedures, voting requirements, fiscal management, the board of directors, and how to make and approve amendments. Sample bylaws are included on page 76 of this handbook.


Stage 4: First Meeting

Once your organization is incorporated, you can prepare an agenda and hold your first “official” meeting. Robert’s Rules of Order may be a useful resource if you are unfamiliar with standard meeting procedures. At this meeting, you will:

  • Adopt bylaws. Make sure everyone understands and is comfortable with the rules and guidelines stated in the organization’s corporate bylaws.
  • Elect officers. You will need to choose a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. Job descriptions for each of these positions are included later in this guide.
  • Discuss financial arrangements, such as selecting a bank and determining a fiscal year.
  • Authorize preparation and filing of IRS forms.
  • Identify an address or P.O. box for mail.
  • Other necessary business.
  • Take notes: make sure the new secretary records minutes for this meeting!


Stage 5: Federal and State Filing

The final step is to file as a nonprofit for federal and state tax purposes.

  • Obtain federal tax-exempt statusby completing either a 501(c)3 or 501(c)6 nonprofit designation application packet from the IRS.  Most downtown organizations apply for 501(c)3 status. For a basic description of the various types of nonprofit designations, please refer to the table on page 26. Please consult an attorney before filing for tax-exempt status.
  • Apply for Minnesota sales tax exemption. Your organization may qualify for exemption from sales tax on certain items. To find out whether your organization is eligible for exemption, contact the Minnesota Department of Revenue Sales and Usage Tax Division at (651) 296-6181 or 1-800-657-3777. To apply, download Form ST-16—Application for Certificate of Exempt Statusfrom the Department of Revenue website, and mail the completed form to:
    •                                            Minnesota Department of Revenue
    •                                            MS 6330
    •                                            St. Paul, MN 55146
  • Get a state tax ID number from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Download Form ABR (Application for Business Registration)and mail the completed form to:
    •                                            Minnesota Department of Revenue
    •                                            MS 4410
    •                                            St. Paul, MN 55146
  • Register as a charity with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. Most, but not all nonprofit organizations are required by state law to register as a charity. Necessary forms and instructions on how to do this are located on the Charities page of the Attorney General website.


Remember, Minnesota Main Street is ready to assist you during this process. You may also want to consult the following useful resources:

  • •NTMSC—“Getting a Green Light from the IRS”

  • •Minnesota Council of Nonprofits—How to Start a Nonprofit

  • •Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State—Business, Nonprofit & UCC page

  • •Minnesota Attorney General’s Office—Nonprofit Organization Resources

  • •Internal Revenue Service—Life Cycle of a Public Charity,,id=122670,00.html

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