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Policy Stuff that I Promise Is Interesting

In September, the California legislature passed The Permit Streamlining Act that requires the state’s cities and counties to conduct an economic impact analysis before approving a new large superstore development. Who would that affect? Right now, it looks like Walmart and Target because they are retailers that operate 90,000-square foot stores, and use at least 10 percent of space for groceries. Who would pay for a consultant to conduct the analysis? The retailer, as part of its fee when it files its application. It appears as if the analysis will delve deeply into the potential impacts of a new superstore. The study would look at how the retailer will affect supply and demand for retail space in the market area, the cost of public services and facilities, the average vehicular miles traveled by customers, and what could potentially happen if the retailer vacates that site.

Keep an eye out to see what happens. At press time, the bill was still waiting for the governor’s signature.

Other interesting legislation is coming out of Louisiana. In the same month, the state legislature enacted the Louisiana Buy Local Purchase Incentive Program, which the governor signed. This bill offers restaurateurs a 4 percent rebate on the purchase of local produce, seafood, and dairy to encourage working with local producers. The state agricultural department will administer this program, funded by donations and grants, through 2014.

This program reflects this issue’s “Director’s Column” about creating new opportunities for local producers that improve quality of life. Louisiana has several programs that support this effort already, from its “Louisiana Grown” campaign to farmers market coupons for low-income seniors. Why? Like Main Street revitalization, farmers markets keep money local.

A study from Mississippi State University found that for every dollar spent at a Mississippi farmers market, 41.33 cents stayed in the region. Another study of the New Orleans’ Crescent City Farmers Market, which brings in around $2 million each year, estimates an economic impact of almost $5 million for its vendors and nearby retailers.

Lastly, also in September, soon after the National Trust for Historic Preservation sent out an advocacy alert, Congress passed a six-month extension of the transportation program (SAFETEA-LU) without a harmful amendment that would have stripped the TE program of its dedicated funding. While this is excellent news, we must remain vigilant as future threats are likely. Congress will negotiate the long-term reauthorization of the TE program in the next six months. I don’t have to tell you how many great transportation-related projects have come to Main Street as a result of this federal funding. We’ll be back in touch about this issue when the extension gets set to expire because that aforementioned harmful amendment will most likely be re-introduced. Flex your letter-writing fingers, ‘cause we’ll need you to tell your representatives how these programs have benefited your communities. If you have some success stories that resulted from TE funding, please e-mail me (andrea_dono@nthp.org). Meanwhile, stay tuned.

Around the Network

AARP The Magazine listed a short list of the most affordable places to retire, and half of the communities were Main Streets. They include Tulsa, Oklahoma; Gainesville, Georgia; Wenatchee, Washington; Winchester, Virginia; and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. What’s more, the pub even acknowledged that Gainesville’s downtown was an amenity.

More congrats to the Main Street communities featured in Money Magazine’s best places to live list: Liberty, Missouri; Simsbury, Connecticut; Ardmore, Pennsylvania; Noblesville, Indiana; Hernando, Mississippi; and Dover, New Hampshire!

Ardmore also earned statewide recognition from the Pennsylvania Downtown Center’s annual awards for the Ardmore Initiative’s Downtown Dollars program. Back-to-back blizzards and the tough recession inspired Board Chairman John Durso to come up with his own version of a local stimulus program. Downtown Dollars sells shoppers local money at a 50 percent discount that can only be be used at Ardmore shops, restaurants, and service businesses. Merchants redeem the dollars with the Ardmore Initiative for their full value. In effect, the program offers consumers a discount of 50 percent on their purchases, at no cost to the merchants. The Ardmore Initiative used $7,500 from its operating budget to fund the first release of Downtown Dollars, which sold out in four minutes. Encouraged by popular demand, Durso then approached four local banks to contribute $10,000 to pay for $20,000 of this local scrip during the holiday shopping season. Check out our Solution Center for a primer created by the Ardmore Initiative to help other Main Street organizations kick start their own local stimulus programs.

Forty-seven years ago in rural Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, a large plane flying overhead tipped locals off that something unusual was going on. Some teens checked out the local airport and came face to face with the Beatles—and the rest is (local) history. Recently, the town unveiled an “Abbey Road”-themed sculpture  (see photos opposite page) celebrating this moment and plans to create a guitar walk downtown commemorating some of the performers, like Johnny Cash and Elvis, who traveled the Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway, otherwise known as U.S. 67, between gigs.

While the sculpture caught the eye of The Wall Street Journal, Walnut Ridge also has a great business development partnership story to tell. The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce launched Invest in Your Dreams, a program that offers new business owners free or reduced rent downtown in exchange for making some building upgrades or improvements. Property owners are responsible for major building improvements, such as a sound roof and basic utility infrastructure. Charles Snapp, a property owner and the mind behind the idea, thinks of it as a “co-investor” relationship where the entrepreneur can put in tile flooring, upgrade the electrical system if needed, and make other improvements the business needs. During the initial period of the lease, the tenant “will recoup the money invested in the building to customize it how he wants,” explains Snapp. “And then he will have a discounted rate for the second phase while he is still building his business.”

Snapp and his wife, as well as a few other downtown property owners, are ready to sign leases with entrepreneurs whose business plans can fit into and succeed in their commercial space. The players involved see this as a win-win. The owner gets an improved building, the entrepreneur customizes the interior for a break-in rent, and the city gets a tax-generating business on the books. The first taker is a yogurt shop owner who will install flooring, wall coverings, and a heating and cooling system for a 50-percent discount on the rent for several years; then he can renew at market rate. Sounds like a sweet deal to me.

This summer, Main Street Middletown in Maryland held its second Date Night to show off the entertainment and dining options downtown. For $75, couples could enjoy a progressive dinner, with separate courses at different establishments; carriage rides; dancing; and a keepsake photo. Couples were pleased that they could enjoy a full night of entertainment downtown for the same price as the typical dinner and movie date, and restaurateurs were pleased to get exposure to new customers. The event will keep changing each year; for example, last year restaurant specials were offered instead of a full dinner. The Main Street program hopes Date Night will become a good organizational fund raiser.

Small Business Saturday

Folks on the Main Street list serve have been discussing Small Business Saturday, a national campaign developed by American Express Open to encourage people to shop at independent businesses on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Last year, three Main Street communities hosted events in partnership with AmEx and the National Trust for Historic Preservation and found their communities really got behind the idea. The National Trust Main Street Center is an official supporter of the movement this year and encourages you to join the campaign and plan events for November 26, 2011—or, as the three pilot programs did, add Small Business Saturday to current promotions. Do a search on the list serve archives for a round-up of the pilot communities’ events and marketing efforts that I sent out and visit smallbusinesssaturday.com for more information. Oh, and join the movement on Small Business Saturday’s Facebook page.

Grant Announcement

The 1772 Foundation will make grant funding available for historic preservation revolving funds throughout the United States. Applications are due to maryanthony@1772foundation.org by December 16, 2011. Applicants will be notified no later than February 10, 2012. To be eligible to apply, organizations must have a 501c3 IRS designation. The foundation will consider requests for the following:

  • Feasibility Studies for established preservation organizations that are interested in starting a revolving fund;
  • Grants to increase the capacity of existing revolving funds;
  • Production of educational materials/toolkits to expand the knowledge of real-estate-based resources and legal tools for historic preservation; and
  • Regional convenings of revolving-fund practitioners

 

On the Radio and On the Big Screen

On October 1st, NTMSC Director Doug Loescher was interviewed on VoiceAmerica Internet Radio about the Main Street Approach and its role in America’s economic comeback. To listen to the archived show, and other great topics that are part of the “Going for Broke” radio series with Eric Hovee, visit www.voiceamerica.com/show/1966/going-for-broke.

After moving to New York City from rural Maine, filmmaker Ian Cheney asks: “Do we need the stars?” The City Dark is a new feature documentary about the night sky and what light pollution means for the health of communities and the environment. The filmmakers are looking for communities, businesses, and nonprofits to host screenings of the film. Community screenings are open to the public and can be a great centerpiece for a fund raiser, membership drive, or educational campaign—perhaps as part of your next Earth Day events. If you’d like to host a screening, visit www.thecitydark.com or contact Laura at screenings@thecitydark.com.