In the nearly three decades of MainStreet’s history in the United States, the National Trust MainStreet Center has identified eight essential guiding principles that local MainStreet organizations must embrace in order to be successful.
For successful, sustainable, long-term revitalization, a comprehensive approach, including activity in each of MainStreet’s Four Points (Organization, Design, Promotion, and Economic Positioning), is essential. A single focus — be it lavish public improvements, name-brand business recruitment, or endless promotional events — will not successfully revitalize a MainStreet district.
Improvements to downtown need to happen incrementally. While larger, catalytic projects can be important, successful revitalization programs begin with basic, simple activities that demonstrate that “new things are happening” in the commercial district. As public confidence grows and participants’ understanding of the revitalization process becomes more sophisticated, MainStreet is able to tackle complex problems and more ambitious projects. This incremental change leads to longer-lasting and more dramatic positive change in the MainStreet area.
No one else can save your MainStreet. Local leaders must have the will and desire to mobilize local resources and talent and work together to plan and implement projects and activities that improve the downtown area. While state and national experts can advise and guide local MainStreet programs, ultimately local residents, business and property owners, government officials, and other leaders must agree to work on Main Street and to do what is necessary to improve their downtown area.
Both the public and private sectors have a vital interest in the downtown district and must work together to achieve common goals of Main Street’s revitalization. Each sector has a role to play and must understand the other’s strengths and limitations in order to forge an effective partnership.
5. EXISTING ASSETS
Every community has unique qualities like distinctive buildings, anchor businesses, and a human scale that gives people a sense of belonging. Business districts must recognize and capitalize on the assets that make them unique. Retaining and enhancing local assets must be the foundation for all aspects of the revitalization program.
MainStreet must emphasize quality in every aspect of the revitalization program. This applies to all elements of the process — from storefront designs to promotional campaigns to educational programs. Shoestring budgets and “cookie-cutter” efforts can send a negative image of the commercial district and the organization. Instead, successful programs identify a realistic scope of work for downtown and implement the highest quality projects possible.
Communities that undertake a MainStreet program must want to change — change the physical environment, business practices, perceptions of downtown, and more. At first, almost no one believes Main Street can really turn around. Changes in attitude and practice are slow, but community support for change will build as the MainStreet program grows and consistently meets its goals. Eventually, business and property owners will enact improvements, and people will see downtown in a different light. A carefully-planned MainStreet program will help shift public perceptions and practices to support and sustain the revitalization process.
To succeed, MainStreet must show visible results that can only come from completing projects. Frequent, visible changes are a reminder that the revitalization effort is underway and succeeding. Small projects at the beginning of the program pave the way for larger ones as the revitalization effort matures. That constant level of revitalization activity creates confidence in the MainStreet organization and builds ever-greater levels of participation.