lies at the heart of many downtown revitalization projects because it dovetails
so well with economic and community needs. Older buildings are often more
distinctive than contemporary structures, and they celebrate a town’s history
and identity. Rehabilitating a downtown structure is generally cheaper,
and also helps bolster a community’s economy and social bonds. And preservation
helps reduce environmental harm by reducing pressures fueling sprawl.
There are a number of successful initiatives for
fighting the flight from Main Street.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, for
example, has a National Main Street Center. Started in 1980, the center
is an economic development program that encourages downtowns to build upon
their unique characteristics, including their historic buildings, to differentiate
themselves in business markets saturated by ``sameness.’’ Main Street
Center has helped generate almost $6 billion in new downtown investment,
which has attracted 33,000 net new businesses, created 115,000 net new
jobs and spurred 34,000 historic building rehabilitation projects.
Denton, Texas, invested $3.5 million to overhaul
their century old courthouse. Standing in contrast to the old, worn-out
buildings that surrounded it the courthouse gave impetus to change in the
downtown. A coalition of merchants and civic leaders formed an independent
program funded by city and private money to revitalize the area around
the courthouse and joined Texas's urban Main Street partnership.
The Main Street partnership helped the city convert the Campus Theater
from a movie house to a live performance theater, which anchors a growing
arts and entertainment district; Spurred development of upper-story apartments;
Encouraged a cooperative advertising program where merchants work together
to promote the downtown and implemented a parking program.
In Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin downtown merchants organized
into a business improvement district that taxed itself for renovations
and promotions. The town reinvested $42 million, rehabilitated 124
buildings, netted 45 new businesses and 457 new jobs.
In Franklin, Tennessee merchants rallied for new
sidewalks and other downtown improvements and transformed the downtown
landscape. Once 50% vacant, the downtown has seen all of its buildings
rehabbed and filled with thriving businesses as well as 14 upper floor
apartments. The town gained 165 new business and 1,500 new jobs since
the Main Street program began and the downtown area is now the county's
second largest employer. Both residents and business owners protested
an attempt to relocate the post office from downtown to along a highway.
The Postal services remain downtown.
Bollier, David, How Smart Growth Can Stop
Sprawl, a briefing guide for funders (Washington, D.C.: Essential Books,
Moe, Richard and Carter Wilkie, Changing Places:
Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl, (New York: Henry Holt and
National Trust for
The National Trust assists community organizations
and advocates for local, state and federal policy that encourages historic
preservation. Increasingly the Trust has focused on sprawl as a key
threat to our historic and architectural heritage.
Since 1980, the National Main Street Center has
been working with communities across the nation to revitalize their historic
or traditional commercial areas. Based in historic preservation, the Main
Street approach was developed to save historic commercial architecture
and the fabric of American communities' built environment, but has become
a powerful economic development tool as well.