A Quarter Century of Core Values

Trust salutes Main Street's milestone while charting its future.

By Rachel Adams

The former Evans Hotel (right) is the centerpiece of downtown Hot Springs, S.D., one of the three original towns in which the Trust tested its Main Street ideas.

Credit: R. Johnson & Hot Springs Area Chamber of Commerce

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the National Main Street Center, which has revived downtowns in some 1,800 communities in more than 40 states (see "Paso Robles Rising," p. 26). Commemorating this milestone, the Trust hopes both to reinforce the focus on Main Street participants and to work with new communities. In January, a task force was formed that, coordinating with other Trust programs and national and state preservation organizations, will promote the Main Street program throughout the year.

"This is the 25th year not only of the Main Street Center," says Doug Loescher, executive director of community revitalization at the Trust, "but somewhat of the movement itself." Main Street grew out of efforts that began in 1977, when the Trust, concerned about the decline of historic downtowns in small cities, launched the Main Street Project, testing a new concept of revitalization in three communities—Galesburg, Ill.; Madison, Ind.; and Hot Springs, S.D.

Three years later, the Main Street Center began in earnest. "We took the lessons learned in the original project and started to apply them nationally," says Loescher. "We began by building state-level partnerships to leverage state and local resources. That method just took off right away."

By 1990, 600 communities had adopted the Main Street approach, a four-point strategy that creates an organizational structure from a town's diverse groups, markets its downtown, designs architectural and streetscape improvements, and restructures the community's economy. Main Street plans were also introduced in the neighborhood commercial zones of such large cities as Chicago, San Diego, and Boston.

Main Street is concentrating more on urban projects, learning from the highly successful Boston program. "Our scope has really expanded in the past five to 10 years," says Loescher. "We're becoming much more active in neighborhoods of varying economic levels, as in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., which has our fastest-growing program, with 12 neighborhoods participating. The newest venture is in downtown Milwaukee."

The Trust is celebrating the 25-year mark by holding special programs at the National Main Streets Conference in Baltimore in May; featuring retrospective coverage of veteran communities in its monthly Main Street News; making Main Street a focal point of educational and other sessions at the National Preservation Conference in Portland, Ore., in the fall; seeking new corporate sponsors; and increasing the program's visibility through the media and a revamped Main Street Web site.

"Lately, many local programs have developed that parallel the Main Street technique," says Loescher. "We're going to use the anniversary to create a link between these movements and our own and explore the essential role we all have in rejuvenating historic areas."