From the President's Desk

Resolutions for the New Year

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Download Main Street Now PDF 2010/11_12

Stephanie MeeksSoon after joining the National Trust this past July, I set out on a “listening tour,” talking with you and your peers in Main Street organizations, historic preservation offices, and partner groups nationwide. 

I discovered a remarkable degree of resonance across the preservation community about the challenges facing us.  From city officials to state historic preservation officers, nearly everyone expressed concern about the need to make preservation more accessible, more visible, and better funded.

We’ve been talking a lot about these three issues at the National Trust.  By addressing them, we believe that we can create the sort of visible, dynamic, broadly inclusive movement we all want preservation to be – and need for it to be – in the 21st century.

Main Street communities have a vital role to play in this effort.  In the areas of accessibility and visibility – which relate to making our work more broadly understood and more widely embraced – all of you are preservation’s best ambassadors.  Every day you counteract the myth that historic preservation is concerned only with the past, with safeguarding our cultural heritage behind velvet ropes and “don’t touch” signs. 

Nothing could be further from the truth in more than 2,000 Main Street communities nationwide.  Your work blends the best of the old and the new, creating authentic neighborhoods full of thriving small businesses – places like the Haley House Bakery Café I visited in Boston, which serves up great music and delicious baked goods while providing job training for homeless citizens.  Or the Main Street Bistro and Bakery, a Parisian patisserie proudly situated on the historic Main Street of Grapevine, Texas.

Like most people, I have a special place in my heart for shops like these.  I still remember the fun of being five or six and walking the aisles at the Loveland, Colorado, five & dime by myself for the first time, looking for a Christmas present for my mother. 

Years later, the Main Street Center’s work to protect historic downtowns from the threat of big-box development drew me to the National Trust.  My story is hardly unique:  in the 30 years since it was founded, the Main Street Center has brought thousands of new people and partners to the organization.  It has transformed the way individuals, governments, planners, and developers view the preservation movement.

The most recent evidence of this is a new partnership with the small business unit of American Express to promote Small Business Saturday on November 27.  That effort encouraged people to patronize their favorite small businesses (www.smallbusinesssaturday.com) and we followed it up with a searchable database on www.preservationnation.org of holiday events in Main Street communities nationwide.

Such consumer campaigns implicitly recognize that strong downtowns and neighborhood business districts are powerful economic engines.  The Main Street movement has spurred $49 billion in reinvestment in traditional commercial districts.  It has generated more than 415,000 jobs, helped create more than 94,000 businesses, and galvanized thousands of volunteers.

These are impressive results, and they bring me around to the final theme I heard on my listening tour: the need to better fund preservation.  The Main Street program offers a compelling business case for our work, one that can help attract new sources of revenue.  Like tax credits and heritage tourism, Main Street revitalization produces real, measurable economic benefits that stay in local communities.  It creates jobs, expands wealth, and builds the tax base for participating communities.

We have a great story to tell, and I look forward to working with all of you to share it with legislators and funders, and to expand on the good work already happening in your communities. 

In the meantime, very best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous holiday season.