Announcing the 2014 Great American Main Street Award Winners
By National Main Street Center | From Main Street Story of the Week | May 18, 2014 |
Great Main Streets combine good design, historic preservation, public-private partnerships and business incentives in order to create a very special kind of place—a place where people want to live, work and play. The three winners of the 2014 National Main Street Center’s Great American Main Street Awards (GAMSA) are masters at doing just that. This year, we are honored to recognize Virginia’s Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, Iowa’s Woodbine Main Street and Georgia’s Milledgeville Main Street.
These exceptional organizations have lovingly preserved and re-purposed historic infrastructure, designed creative programs to boost local businesses and come together as communities to make their downtowns vibrant, inviting spaces. They offer outstanding examples of how the public and private sectors can work together to create an exciting place, while preserving the rich history of each of their communities. And they are the cream of the crop — selected after rigorous review by a national jury composed of former award winners, community development professionals and representatives of government agencies who are active in economic development and historic preservation.
When we spoke to the leaders of each of these Main Street communities, they all cited similar factors in their success. Those factors included partnership between residents, nonprofits, private businesses, local government, and each community’s Main Street organization. It also included smart application of the National Main Street Center’s Four-Point Approach to revitalizing communities — which has attracted $59.6 billion in public and private investments, added 502,728 new jobs and generated 246,158 building rehabs in the Center’s 30-plus-year history.
Finally, none of these communities would be successful without the leadership and hard work of their Main Street organization’s staff and loyal volunteers, its board of directors, and its coordinating program at the city, county or state level. They are devoted to making their community a better place to live
But these communities still consider themselves works in progress — and they’re not about to rest on their laurels. As Main Street Milledgeville Director Carlee Schulte puts it, “the future plans for a Main Street community must be a work in progress that is ever evolving.”
A 2014 Great American Main Street Award winner, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance (HDR) has led a remarkable transformation of Harrisonburg, Virginia, using the Main Street Approach to reinvigorate its historic downtown. Thanks to HDR’s efforts over the past 10 years, Harrisonburg has become a cultural destination renowned for its farm-to-table cuisine and beautifully preserved buildings dating to the city’s past as an agricultural powerhouse and county seat. Former commercial buildings have been converted into housing for young professionals, while new tax incentives are luring tech startups downtown and creating jobs.
Since HDR was formed in 2004, nearly 800 new jobs have been created, tax revenues have increased $2 million and real estate value has risen to more than half a billion dollars. Much of the economic growth can be credited to partnerships between the city and HDR’s economic development committee, which formed several programs to attract new businesses. In addition, the Downtown Technology Zone provides tax incentives for qualifying businesses to locate downtown.
Getting listed in the National Register of Historic Places—and becoming eligible for historic tax credits—was another key step toward revitalizing downtown. Following that designation, local developers have used tax credits to transform historic buildings into modern, mixed-use developments that have boosted retail and added downtown housing. Now, downtown Harrisonburg is a destination that draws visitors from all over the region and beyond. Learn more.
Beautiful Milledgeville, Georgia, was state capital from 1804 to 1868. Today, visitors will find many of the city’s historic antebellum buildings lovingly preserved, including the Gothic Revival style Old Capitol Building, with battlements and pointed arched windows — as well as a vibrant downtown business district that is wholeheartedly supported by the community.
Ten years ago, however, downtown Milledgeville had several blighted buildings, many of which needed paint and other improvements. Since then, Milledgeville Main Street has led the whole community in an effort to reinvent the downtown area. That includes $2 million in streetscaping projects, a 50/50 façade-grant matching program and the city’s “grassroots” BOOST program, in which local donors give small sums of money to help local businesses. Milledgeville Main Street manages the money, and businesses can apply for grants of $100 to $1,000, which are awarded quarterly and can be used for marketing, advertising, exterior or interior renovations, and purchasing equipment.
Because of those efforts, as well as several significant historic rehabs, downtown Milledgeville is booming. Three large renovation projects are currently underway, which will provide at least 10 commercial spaces and 20 residential lots within the next two years and pour $2 million into the district. Learn more.
Woodbine, Iowa, is a rural town of less than 2,000 people — but residents have come together in a big way to make their historic Main Street district a success. Since Woodbine Main Street was formed six years ago, the group used federal funds to rehab 23 building facades downtown and survived a serious fire that damaged four historic buildings last year. Two have already reopened, while reconstruction begins soon on the remaining two, with an eye toward historic preservation.
Two major projects that repurposed historic buildings have already helped revitalize downtown Woodbine. The owners of the late-19th century Odd Fellows building converted the deteriorating property into a mixed-use building with apartments, office and retail, using private funds, historic tax credits and grants. Meanwhile, the owners of the 1890s Woodbine Savings Bank partnered with the city, Woodbine Main Street and a local development group to transform the former bank into affordable apartments and office suites.
Thanks to those projects — as well as the efforts of Woodbine Main Street — the number of housing units downtown has doubled, from 16 in 2008 to 32 today. Since the program started, the number of jobs downtown has also increased 23 percent, and 22 businesses have opened or expanded. Woodbine may be a small town, but Woodbine Main Street and its loyal volunteers pack a big punch. Learn more.
This year, we debuted a new awards category at the 2014 National Main Streets Conference called the “Ones to Watch.” These are exceptional communities working on very innovative projects, and they are poised on the cusp of major transformation. They exemplify the idea that any great Main Street is an ever-evolving work in progress—and offer inspiration for fledgling Main Streets and longstanding Main Street groups alike. Learn about this year’s winners.