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 >>

 

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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!

Virginia’s Craft Beer Scene is Booming

Governor Terry McAuliffe recently announced that Virginia is now home to 206 licensed breweries, a 468% growth since 2012, when the tasting room bill, SB604, passed the General Assembly. A newly released economic impact study shows that Virginia’s booming beer industry contributes more than $9.34 billion annually to Virginia’s economy.

“In addition to the direct economic impacts of manufacturing, the industry generates increased tourism-related revenues, provides new production and sales opportunities for our agricultural producers, and enhances community revitalization and development efforts in both rural and urban areas of the Commonwealth”, said Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore.

This success story is close to home on Virginia’s Main Streets. One of the latest brewery additions is Sugar Hill Brewing Company in St. Paul, opened fall 2016.  The brewery added a much needed restaurant that is now a local favorite, a tourist destination, and a big economic boost to the small town. It complements the economic development strategy as an ecological and commercial hub – connecting downtown to hiking trails, off-road recreation, and summertime tube floats and kayaking on the Clinch River.

A frothy wave is crashing into our Main Street communities; one that is having a favorable impact on local opportunity, character, and spirits.  Check out more Virginia craft brewery offerings here >>

Public Art: Making downtown a joyful, active, and social place

May 15-19, 2017 marked Art Week @StrongTowns and, while those days have come and gone,  public art catalyzes Main Street’s unique vitality throughout the year.

Old Town Winchester, host of the upcoming Virginia Main Street Downtown Intersections, creates an outdoor gallery experience through the Artscape program. An annual, juried art competition, Artscape  reproduces selected artwork on banners that hang throughout the downtown.  During the summer, young families are drawn to the downtown for a splash pad installation, which illuminates in the evening.

Public art can serve to make your downtown very memorable, motivating visitors to share their experience with others or surely to return. @StrongTowns author Marielle Brown emphasizes playful art to help visitors fall in love with your downtown:

We should look for opportunities to incorporate climbing, sitting, playing and general whimsy through public art, when appropriate. It may involve grappling with questions of liability and insurance at the municipal level, but the payoff will be more joyful, active and social places.

Whether you are planning a public art project, or not, you will find gale-force ideas to bring to your next Main Street committee brainstorm.

Check out more here >>>

 

Old Town Winchester Splash Pad and Public Restrooms

A Tale of Two Community Engagement Events

As an inherently grassroots movement, effective community engagement is an essential component of any successful Main Street program. Without it, organization’s cannot effectively plan their work, recruit volunteers and board members, promote the district, or communicate impact. Main Street must be community driven.

This week I had the opportunity to participate in two very different community engagement events organized by Main Street organizations. One was an informal and ongoing, with a minimal agenda but strong interaction and conversation. The other was a highly planned, one-time “idea pop-up” that was focused on activity, imagination, and a critical mass of feedback from the community at large.

SDDA Monthly Round Table at Farmhouse Kitchen and Wares

Staunton Downtown Development Association has instituted monthly round-table discussions that draw about 25 stakeholders. Held in the evening at local restaurants, it is an opportunity for the board and staff to introduce specific topics to the public, get feedback, generate ideas, and impart information. The format and feel are informal and conversational, with new topics every month.

A small piece of HDR’s Idea Incubator

By contrast, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance held an interactive idea pop-up event that drew hundreds of enthusiastic participants over a three hour period. There were multiple stations for idea generation, sharing, comment, and creativity. This included an idea incubator, a pin board of urban design, mad-libs for visioning, and a physical chat room where the public could visit with board members to brainstorm together in real time.

I was blown away by both events – the energy, the participants, the enthusiasm, the snacks! Look for both Julie (Staunton) and Andrea (Harrisonburg) to walk us through their planning, their events, the impacts, and the outcomes in future blogs.

If your community wants to up its engagement game contact Virginia Main Street.

“Booster Rockets” For Downtown Revitalization Momentum

After decades of market preference for suburban development, Main Street and downtowns are hot again! Back in the market, they are once again desirable targets for investment, business startups, expansion, the creative economy, housing, and tourism. So, how do we sustain that momentum, take advantage of the attention, and keep the revitalization progress moving forward?  Our fellow downtown advocates @StrongTowns say communities must keep taking it to the next level without hesitation.

“I like to think of the early, “fun” stages of [revitalization] as the booster rockets on the old space shuttles…they’re necessary to get the things that really matter off the ground and into the atmosphere.  After they do their job, it’s all about making sure you blend that momentum with careful, strategic planning and experience to complete the mission.”

The Cork’s Been Popped…What’s Next For Your City? @StrongTowns

Berryville Main Street Celebrates 25 Years

Guest blogger Sue Ross, Executive Director of Berryville Main Street, has 10 years of Main Street experience and recently returned to Berryville to lead a refreshed program, creating new partnerships and an enhanced marketplace. 

Berryville Main Street turned 25! We celebrated with bluegrass, local food, and friends in a restored downtown dairy barn.  Started in 1992, Berryville Main Street successfully sought Virginia Main Street community designation and National Main Street Accreditation to encourage the growth and revitalization of their small town.

As one of the oldest continuously designated Main Street communities in Virginia, Berryville has seen numerous building improvements, new businesses, job creation, and retail promotions resulting in a revitalized downtown. Successful partnerships include Town and County, community leaders, businesses, area schools and nonprofits.  In 2016, Berryville Main Street was recognized with a Virginia Main Street Milestone Award celebrating more than $30 million in private investment.

Berryville Main Street 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Barns of Rose Hill, February 28, 2017

Berryville Main Street 25th
Anniversary Celebration at the Barns of Rose Hill, February 28, 2017

In these 25 years, many memories have been created with events like Barn and Blue Moon Dances, Monthly and Holiday Craft Markets, Arbor Day clean-ups, Volunteer Brick Awards, and entrepreneurial ventures like the Fire House Gallery.  Berryville Main Street also spearheaded the restoration of the Barns of Rose Hill as a cultural center and visitor center.  Much of this would not have happened without the unfailing volunteer commitment of Susi Bailey, who was recognized for her service to downtown with a handcrafted garden bench from Smallwood Woodworking.

Berryville Main Street has certainly seen the ebb and flow of volunteers, board members, government officials and businesses over the years, but the vision remains constant:  Keep Berryville a vibrant, vital, unique, attractive, and family friendly place to shop, enjoy and live.

Thank you to everyone who has been a champion for downtown and supported Berryville Main Street!