historic preservation
Historic preservation 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. 
Case Examples:
  • 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, 1998).
Moe, Richard and Carter Wilkie, Changing Places: Rebuilding Community in the Age of Sprawl, (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997).

National Trust for Historic Preservation
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.

National Main Street Center
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.