What is Main Street?

Developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation 30 years ago, the National Main Street Center encourages public-private partnerships to enhance community livability and job creation while maintaining the historic character of communities’ traditional commercial districts. The Main Street Four-Point Approach is a community-driven, comprehensive methodology used to revitalize historic downtowns nationwide, addressing the variety of challenges that face traditional business districts in a common sense way. The Main Street Approach advocates a return to community self-reliance, local empowerment and the rebuilding of traditional commercial districts based on unique assets such as distinctive architecture, a pedestrian-friendly environment and local ownership.

Why is downtown important?

A community’s central business district often accounts for as much as 30 percent of its jobs and 40 percent of its tax base. It is a community’s crossroads, a place in our hearts and minds that evoke strong emotions and helps define our identity.

What are the benefits to downtown revitalization?

  • Revitalization protects the existing tax base. Private investment in banks, businesses and commercial property and public investment in streets, sidewalks and water and sewer lines are protected and enhanced.
  • Revitalization provides an incubator for new business. A viable downtown offers opportunities and incentives for the new entrepreneurs such as lower rent and technical assistance.
  • Revitalization helps attract industrial development. Downtown reflects the overall image a community projects to potential investors. An invigorated downtown makes a very positive statement about the whole community.
  • Revitalization provides a point of focus and stability. A vibrant downtown gives the whole community and region a sense of pride and positive self-image. It also serves as an anchor that holds the community together and provides the stability necessary for economic growth.

What are the Main Street four-points?

In recent years, many approaches to downtown revitalization, from urban renewal to paint-up, fix-up projects, have failed because they focused on just one or two problems, rather than dealing with the full spectrum of interrelated issues that affect traditional commercial districts. Main Street has been successful in 1,700 communities across the country because of its comprehensive nature.

  • Organization means getting everyone working toward the same goal. The tough work of building consensus and cooperation among groups that have an important stake in the district can be eased by using the common-sense formula of a volunteer-driven program and an organizational structure of boards and committees.
  • Promotion means selling the image and promise of Main Street to all prospects. By marketing the district’s unique characteristics to shoppers, investors, new businesses and visitors, an effective promotional strategy forges a positive image through advertising, retail promotional activity, special events and marketing campaigns carried out by local volunteers.
  • Design means getting Main Street into top physical shape. Capitalizing on its best assets – such as historic buildings and traditional downtown layout – is just part of the story. An inviting atmosphere created through window displays, parking areas, signs, sidewalks, street lights and landscaping conveys a visual message about what Main Street is and what it has to offer.
  • Economic restructuring means finding a new purpose for Main Street’s enterprises. By helping existing businesses expand and recruiting new ones to respond to today’s market, Main Street programs help convert unused space into productive property and sharpen the competitiveness of business enterprises.

What makes the Main Street four-point approach unique?

The Main Street approach has eight Guiding Principles that set it apart from other redevelopment strategies:

  • Comprehensive. Downtown revitalization is a complex process and cannot be accomplished through a single project. For successful long-term revitalization, a comprehensive approach must be utilized.
  • Incremental. Small projects and simple activities lead to a more sophisticated understanding of the revitalization process and help to develop skills so that more complex problems can be addressed and more ambitious projects can be undertaken.
  • Self-help. Nobody else will save Main Street. Local leaders must have the desire and will to make the project successful. The National Main Street Center and Tennessee Main Street Program provide direction, ideas and training, but continued and long-term success depends upon the involvement and commitment of the community.
  • Public-private partnership. The public and private sectors have a vital interest in the economic health and physical viability of the downtown. Each sector has a role to play and each must understand the other’s strengths and limitations to forge an effective partnership.
  • Identifying and capitalizing on existing assets. History is on our side. Business districts must capitalize on the assets that make them unique. Every district has unique qualities, such as the distinctive buildings and human scale, which give people a sense of belonging. These local assets must serve as the foundation for all aspects of the revitalization program.
  • Quality. Build to last. Quality must be emphasized in every aspect of the revitalization program. This applies equally to each element of the program, from storefront design to promotional campaigns to educational programs.
  • Change. Skeptics turn into believers. Almost no one believes Main Street can really turn around, at first. Changes in attitude and practice are slow and definite but necessary to improve current economic conditions. Public support for change will build as the program grows.
  • Implementation-oriented. Make a difference today. Activity creates confidence in the program and even greater levels of participation. Frequent, visible changes are a reminder that the revitalization effort is under way—starting small and building on successes.