The last in-person conference Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) hosted was in St. Louis (2019) before the pandemic spread across the country. With 2020 postponed and 2021 hosted virtually, MMSC staff set their eyes on making 2022 the return of Missouri’s’ Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference. The conference theme “Places Reimagined” highlighted the work that districts had completed in reimagining their public spaces to provide their community what they needed during the pandemic. Especially with grants from MMSC and our partner AARP, the Community Resiliency Grant allowed five districts to active spaces in their community to meet the changes in the business climate and better their downtowns while celebrating and encouraging inclusivity. ‘Placed Reimagined’ also highlighted the changes in how spaces have been and will continue to be used as a result of the pandemic. These changes have encouraged Main Streets to examine how spaces are set up to serve their communities. ‘Places Reimagined’ just worked to bring all of these ideas together. MMSC was determined to create the place for our communities to be able to come together and learn after three years of being away from an in-person conference experience. And boy did we come back with a bang!
From the start of conference there were many things to partake in. On August 3rd, while many local program directors and their support staff arrived to take part in their monthly directors meeting and a semiannual support staff meeting, attendees who arrived early and could take part in two different concurrent educational tours the “Educational Walking Tour of Kansas City Crossroads” or the “Educational Guided Scavenger Hunt Through Downtown Kansas City.” These tours provided a way to explore the unique sites, architecture, and commercial districts of Downtown Kansas City and the Crossroads Arts District. The Educational Walking Tour of Kansas City Crossroads was popular as it toured the diverse, mixed-use community full of galleries, restaurants, locally-focused retail, technology, and design firms. Participants got to see firsthand several historic tax credit adaptive reuse projects and speak with representatives on how they accomplished their project as well as visiting Union Station and the Freight House Pedestrian Bridge.
MMSC board member Bill Emmons had this to say about the new perspective he gained of Kansas City Crossroads, “I’ve been to Kansas City many times, but I never knew there was so much vitality in the Crossroads district. It’s exciting to see old spaces become new and inviting places for entertainment, artistic expression, offices, and housing. There’s even a stylish new place to stay or hold meetings, the Crossroads Hotel. This luxury hotel is a re-imagined version of the Pabst Brewing Depot, which was built in 1911.”
Randy Greeves, one of the conference volunteers, accompanied attendees on the tour through the Kansas City Crossroads District and said this, “Having never been to Kansas City before I was fortunate to go on the Crossroads tour. I got to see many of the beautiful examples of architecture in downtown KC as well as getting to speak to some of the people responsible to revitalizing important areas, and creating a safe and beautiful place to residents to enjoy. This conference was a wonderful opportunity and experience for me, and I look forward to volunteering again!”
Community and commercial district tours are a great way to see what a different district is doing and take that back to discuss with your board, volunteers, and community. Almost any idea can be scaled to fit a community’s size, resources, and cultural identity. Mitchell West the Board Vice-President of Main Street Albany stated, “Regardless of the size of a community or the resources available, the success of a community is always about the people.” Main Street is all about the people, because places aren’t places unless there are people.
Once conference officially started Thursday with the Welcome & Opening Assembly with Keynote Address you could feel the buzz in the air as Jason Roberts kicked us off with “Creating People-Centered Places.” Attendees bustled from room to room listening to sessions and also stopped at exhibitors in the expo hall, grabbed some refreshments during our beverage break, and networked with other communities and MMSC board members at our booth and Main Street Clinic. Cynthia Coffman, the director of Downtown Lebanon commented:
“The Main Street Clinic was one of most the valuable aspects of conference. A board member and I utilized the expertise of the Main Street Clinic doctors to brainstorm possibilities for reimagining a historic preservation project that is a key property for our downtown business district. We’re now moving forward, using a list of resources and individual contacts provided by the Main Street Clinic doctors.”
We heard so many good things from attendees that approached us about the sessions they attended. Mackenzie Manring of Main Street Albany had this to say about the sessions and speakers, “Every speaker was knowledgeable and experienced in his or her field, and I was able to take away something of value from each breakout session I attended.” There were clearly a few favorites that attendees couldn’t get enough of which included: Jason Roberts’ Opening Keynote Address “Creating People- Centered Places”, Jackie Wolven’s session “Building True Community With Design Thinking”, Shelia Scarborough’s session “Get More Heritage/Culture Visitors into Small Towns: Social Media Content Ideas from the 8 Rural Culture Elements”, and Lily Clajus’ session “StoryMapping Main Street: Using Digital Place-Based Narratives in the Main Street Approach™” just to name a few.
The ShowMe Bash and Pitch Party was another great evening. Attendees brought the excitement of the confernce to Ophelia’s Restaurant and Inn in Downtown Independence to see great pitches for the Creative Space Activation Grant. Five communities were looking to win the $10,000 Creative Space Activation grant and presented their projects to the judges made up of MMSC board members. Delmar Main Street walked away as the winner with $10,000 for their Transit Wall Transformation Project. Their application and following pitch at the event highlighted the great need for the project in their district and the strong support they have. It was breathtaking.
The evening didn’t end there as after the Pitch Party the ShowMe Bash was just starting. Jeff Rodgers from Independence Square Association worked with his local groups to have first person interpreters, community members who performed and interacted with attendees as people from the past in historic costume dispersed throughout the district along with other activities including loft tours. Store owners also to stayed open late to have a great time for attendees to experience Independence, MO.
From across the Square you could see attendees experiencing what Independence has implemented in their district like self-watering planters that Mr. Rodgers and Historic River District Ozark, MO chatted about and St. Louis Main Streets programs enjoying their evening together.
The last big success was the finale of Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference being the Evening of Excellence Awards Ceremony & Dinner. This is always a special evening at our conference where MMSC presents awards to communities, businesses, and individuals to commemorate and honor their commitment to their district as well as the achievements of Main Street revitalization. This year was extra special with some of the award recipients.
Check out the Press Release section on our website to see all the awards that were handed out to communities. [www.momainstreet.org/press-releases/] One award was a surprise to everyone in attendance. Dr. Steven Hoffman, the MMSC Board’s Immediate Past President, received the Pioneer Award.
This award was awarded to Dr. Steven Hoffman for his service, dedication, passion, and support for Missouri Main Street Connection throughout its history as well as the entire state of Missouri. Steven’s unwavering passion and dedication has impacted many individuals and organizations not only in Missouri but throughout the country over the years.
As communities departed the conference, they took with them the knowledge and connections they gained to their communities to share with others. Main Street Albany Promotion Committee Chair, Tonya McCampbell had this to say about the conference:
“The annual conference was so inspiring and informational. It was definitely worth our board member and committee member's time. All four of us could not stop talking on our two hour rides to and from the conference about how many ideas from other communities would work so well with our community. I know that Albany will be a better place after we implement a few things we learned at the conference... just wait and see!”
Katelyn Galloway, Promotion Committee Chair of Main Street Brookfield had this to say as well:
“I was able to take away useful information from each session that was presented. My favorite part about this conference was the ability to network and obtain ideas from other attendees with the same passions as myself. I am excited to implement some of the ideas in my own community that I acquired from the sessions and my peers. This was my first year attending, and it definitely will not be the last!”
As we take all the feedback provided by the session surveys and overall conference survey, we continue to make conference better each year for each attendee. MMSC is excited to see you in Saint Louis in 2023!