Main Street Stimulus - Myth or Reality?

Streetlight
Federal funding from the stimulus package can be a great benefit to Main Streets, but comes with risks of hasty decisions.

Since the beginning of the economic downturn, the wholesome image of "Main Street" has been just too hard to resist when policy makers and pundits talk about recovery.  The name has been used endlessly, to describe just about anything. 

Last November, for example, the U.S. Conference of Mayors endorsed the "Main Street Stimulus," a series of "shovel-ready" projects that would put people back to work, while rebuilding our infrastructure.  Many of those ideas made it into the final stimulus package, approved by Congress and President Obama last month.  And as recently as last week, Main Street coordinators in our network have been peppered with questions about the stimulus, and what it means for them.

First things first… the much-talked about "Main Street Stimulus" as endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors is in no way connected with the National Trust Main Street Center, the Main Street program, or our network.  Moreover, most of the "shovel-ready" projects will not take place on – or even near – a Main Street.  (For more information, visit www.usmayors.org/recovery.)

Secondly, despite the fact that huge sums of money will be flowing to the states, we cannot assume those funds will find their way into the budgets of historic preservation or Main Street coordinating programs.  In fact, about a dozen state Main Street programs face significant budget challenges in the next year.  At the National Trust for Historic Preservation, we have been coordinating communication and support to help statewide coalitions in several states make the case for Main Street to state legislators.  As new threats emerge, we will continue to mobilize members and partners wherever possible.

Finally, we should consider the upside of the stimulus funding.  Specifically, many of the projects endorsed by the mayors – and included in the final stimulus package – could benefit our Main Streets, particularly when it comes to transportation enhancements and CDBG funding.  Of course, any sudden influx of cash might also fund some hasty, if not detrimental, decisions.

The combination of sudden money and simultaneous budget cuts for state programs is creating what we call the "Perfect Storm."  To track the specific programs and agencies receiving stimulus funding, the National Trust has created an on-line "Storm Tracker," to show you where your tax dollars are being spent. For more information, visit www.preservationnation.org/resources/public-policy/perfect-storm.