The Destination Express: Enhancing the Visitor Experience with History

The Ashland Main Street Association and its local partners are dedicated to making downtown an amazing destination.  How?  By embracing their transportation history they are improving the visitor experience and creating memorable central gathering spaces. Executive Director Tom Wulf is our guest blogger with the details.    

Earlier in 2017, mural artist Ed Trask and his team finished a masterpiece on the side of the Caboose Wine & Cheese shop in downtown Ashland–a 250 foot long rendering of a locomotive that traveled Ashland’s tracks 50 years ago. The mural honors the late Art McKinney, former owner of the building and great steward of his historic properties, depicted at the train’s helm as the engineer. I captured the entire mural using a video drone.

The mural is one of several exhibits for the proposed Mid-Atlantic Railroad Park. The park will also include the installation of train-related artifacts as public art exhibits along the key corridor into downtown, England Street. This initiative will not only encourage walking tours along England Street, it will also strengthen Ashland’s brand as a railroad town.

The concept aligns with one of Ashland Main Street’s key strategic priorities, extend the Railroad Avenue [Ashland’s “Main Street”] experience to the England Street corridor.  A railroad park will spread the pedestrian-friendly feel of Railroad Avenue throughout the district and increase foot traffic to England Street restaurants and retailers.

The Ashland Main Street Association will host the upcoming Virginia Main Street Regional Rev-Up, Start with “Why”: Creating Purpose-driven Special Events, November 8, 10 AM – 2 PM.  Register today and experience Ashland up close!

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Start With “Why”: Creating Purpose-driven Special Events

On October 24, 26 and November 8 in St. Paul, Franklin, and Ashland, the fall edition of the Regional Rev Up workshops will equip your Main Street program with the tools you need to develop events that add up to meaningful change.

When taking on a special event or festival, what guides your allocation of limited financial and human resources?  Is that resource allocation strategic?

Simply put, why does your event exist?  Your goal is an authentic Main Street with a vibrant downtown business environment, and special events can support this mission; however, not all events are created equal.  Given the investment of time, energy, and resources it is essential that you take the time to reflect and evaluate the investment and the event. Why is this the event to impact your Main Street for the better?

Join us for a half-day workshop that will be educational, inspiring, and entertaining! Collaborate with community revitalization leaders, network with peers and explore ideas in the interactive sessions.  Learn:

  • To think strategically about events, before, during and after;
  • How to evaluate events for strategic improvement, deletion or handing off to a partner organization; and
  • Successful event ideas that connect to your organizational priorities or Transformation Strategies.

Registration is free. Lunch will cost $15 and is only payable by cash on site at the event.  Registration for each Rev-Up session closes one week prior to the event, so register now to reserve your spot!

 

Train Day – Ashland Main Street Association

The District Digest Vol. 1 – Downtown Ideas to Put to Work

While you were busy making a difference in your home town, you might have missed these thought-provoking posts:

  1. Top 10 Reasons to Support Your Locally Owned Businesses – Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  2. 4 Easy Steps to Squash the “There’s No Parking” Argument – Strong Towns
  3. How to Design a Pedestrian Mall That Works – Governing
  4. How to Bring More Artists Into City Planning – Next City
  5. The Secret Keeping Some Rural Businesses Alive – Forbes
  6. Why neighborhood toy stores are thriving while Toys R Us goes bankrupt – The Washington Post

Bristol, Virginia

Explore the Value of Partnerships at the 2017 Virginia Preservation Conference

Preservation Virginia is excited to co-host the Virginia Preservation Conference alongside the Virginia Department of Historic Resources in Petersburg, Virginia on Friday, October 6 at Union Train Station!

This year, they invite you to “Explore the Value of Partnerships” happening between organizations in the private and public sector that strengthen Virginia’s communities. You’ll get to hear from incredible guest speakers about the collaborations and preservation programs that help revitalize and sustain historic places, including Virginia’s downtowns.

Sessions will cover:

  • Leveraging Historic Tax Credits as Tools for Community Revitalization
  • Promoting Heritage and Recreational Tourism via Historical Interpretation
  • Establishing Public and Private Partnerships in Historic Preservation

As a conference sponsor, Virginia Main Street cheers our preservation partners focusing on a key topic.  Public-private partnerships are vital for a vibrant downtown, allowing your program to extend its reach and achieve better results.

Register today! >>

 

Remaking Petersburg – Style Weekly, September, 2014

Webinar – Business Booster: Recruitment and Retention Tactics for a Vibrant Downtown

On October 2, 12 – 1 p.m., Virginia Main Street is offering a free webinar focused on encouraging business growth in your downtown and helping existing businesses keep their doors open.  

One of the of the primary responsibilities of a Main Street program is to boost the economic growth of the business district.  With the rise of online shopping and convenient apps, where do you put the attention and resources to make downtown the first choice for shopping and dining?  As competition increases to capture spending, it is critical that your program understand its competitive advantages and develop targeted strategies for a sustainable retail base in downtown.

Check out this free webinar to help your Main Street program move from identifying unique market opportunities to developing resources and tools that form the foundation for growing existing businesses and attraction new ones to your commercial district.

About the speaker:

Matt Wagner, Ph.D., Vice President of Revitalization Programs, National Main Street Center

Matt Wagner has more than 20 years of non-profit management experience in downtown development, entrepreneurship, and tech-based development.  At the National Main Street Center, Matt is leading the launch of the renewed and re-imagined Four Point Approach, as well as helping the Center reach new communities with this refreshed framework.  Overseeing the Field Services team, Matt also leads the Center’s efforts to expand technical service offerings, and offer preservation-based economic revitalization services directly to communities.

Register now for this event >>

 

Farmville Shopping - Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

Farmville Shopping – Courtesy of Virginia Tourism Corporation

The Heart of the Revitalization Process: Community Engagement

Warrenton has earned more than 25 years of wisdom as a Virginia Main Street Designated Community. In 2017, their Main Street program celebrated a reboot, a new “booster club” and mantra:  Experience Old Town Warrenton.  To get there, the first thing the community leaders did was invite all stakeholders to be proactive participants in the downtown’s future.  The meeting was so well attended that Virginia and National Main Street staff, as well as town employees, were scrambling to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd. This effort launched a wave of community interest that rippled into volunteer commitments and a meaningful program direction.  The future is bright and the board is feeling it!

“The Main Street Approach situates community engagement at the heart of the revitalization process…it always reflects the input, wisdom, and perspective of local leaders, business owners, and residents.” – Main Street America’s Community Engagement for Main Street Transformation Guide

Warrenton used multiple platforms to reach a diverse audience including an online vision survey and a facilitated public meeting – but each community should look for the tools that will be most effective for reaching their stakeholders.  Don’t be afraid to be creative! Main Street America recently rolled out a new resource to strengthen your efforts, Community Engagement for Main Street Transformation.  It provides a practical framework and includes actionable tools to put to use in your own community.  It will help you:

  • Get to know your stakeholders and future partners;
  • Celebrate the different voices in your community;
  • Generate ideas for the best solutions to the greatest challenges; and
  • Celebrate your accomplishments!

Preempt STP Syndrome, the Same Ten People making all the decisions and doing all the work, and visit the  Main Street America’s Resources Center >>

 

Five Things your Economic Vitality Committee can do Today to Support Downtown

In my Virginia Main Street wanderings and conversations with directors I’ve been hearing a common refrain – “What should our Economic Vitality committee be doing?” A thought provoking question that I am sure goes unasked more often than asked. As fate would have it I recently participated in a Hillary Greenberg webinar on supporting small businesses that provided me with a “lightbulb” moment. Sometimes our boards and committees get caught up in thinking big and miss some of the small, every day, right-in-front-of-your-nose kinds of things that could yield big results for the district.

    1. Is your downtown business friendly? The EV committee can review municipal codes, fees, permit processes and timelines – anything that pertains to establishing or growing a business in the Main Street district. Identify anything that would be a detriment to starting a business or fixing a building then work with the municipality on a making the code friendlier to small business.
    2. Help new businesses navigate the permit process. Now that the EV committee has a thorough understanding of all of the local hoops to jump through to open a business downtown, turn that information into a step-by-step guide for new business owners.
    3. Survey retailers and business owners. In person, with a flyer, online – ask the questions. What would help you to improve your business? Have some check boxes –
      • website development?
      • access to capital?
      • cooperative advertising?
      • loan pool?
      • new signage?
    4. Hold Retailer Round Tables. Use those survey responses to generate topics! One month bring in a marketing guru to discuss website content. The next month (or quarter) have the Promotions committee members come to talk about, and get feedback on, upcoming retailing events. Bring in an accountant to give a Quickbooks lesson. Respond to the retailer’s needs to help them grow their businesses.
    5. Create a Mentorship Network. Every district has those retailers and restaurateurs who are knocking it out of the park. Set up a network of successful business owners to work one-on-one with those that are struggling.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are ideas that can be quickly assigned and implemented by a motivated EV committee that can make a real difference on the ground.

Does your EV committee do something innovative to improve downtown? We want to hear about it!