"Help! My downtown is dying!”
In the 1970s when highways and malls began driving people and businesses away from historic downtowns, people called on the National Trust for Historic Preservation for help in saving their beloved Main Street. The National Trust determined that unless a new economic use was found for a historic building after a renovation, it would still sit vacant and fall into disrepair once again. The methodology for finding new economic uses for old buildings ultimately became known as the Main Street Four-Point Approach.
As the name implies, a community can approach reviving their local economy from four directions:
Grow local economic opportunities and create a supportive environment for small businesses through assistance programs, grants, customer and market research, and business recruitment.
Enhance the appeal to residents and visitors by creating a sense of place and visual identity through historic preservation, improvements to the streets and sidewalks, banners and signs, public art, high-quality building improvements, and walkable neighborhoods.
Create a positive image that showcases a community’s unique assets through festivals, special events, image campaigns, and storytelling.
Build a strong sustainable nonprofit organization through broad-based partnerships, engaged volunteers, effective fundraising, and diversity.
By trying to improve your community from multiple directions, you are able to lead a comprehensive revitalization effort. The National Trust found that there is no one solution to downtown redevelopment – a vision, new sidewalks, new street signs, a festival, a new business, a rehabbed building can’t do the job alone. But, when simultaneously done together, they transform your community. When done incrementally over time, successes build on each other, and contribute to holistic community change.
The work of a Main Street program doesn’t end when a certain number of buildings are saved or businesses are recruited. When a long-term Main Street organization is no longer in economic distress, it enters into the "downtown management phase." The revitalization effort can handle more complex and bigger projects, more sophisticated business assistance programs can be created, targeted regional marketing and customer attraction efforts can be launched, and the growth of the downtown continues to be nurtured in the right direction.