The Main Street Now national conference and Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference are two yearly opportunities for downtown communities to get inspired and connect with other communities. Conference attendance is highly encouraged for local Main Street organizations that have an agreement with Missouri Main Street Connection. Attendance counts towards the required yearly training attendance and is an opportunity to collaborate with other programs to discover new ideas. Attending a conference is a fantastic way to learn about the time-tested downtown revitalization tactics and many other topics. Downtown Washington Inc. is a local program that has implemented a policy with their board member contracts requiring attendance to at least one training a year. This is a great way to ensure that your board continues to learn about the developing Main Street trends and topics.
Housing development has been a feature at both national and state conferences. This topic captivated and inspired a Downtown Washington, Inc. board member to bring new ideas and plans back to his community. Andy Unerstall of Unerstall Construction shared this about his experience in traveling to Chicago for Main Street Now National Conference in 2009:
“When I went to Chicago I had a development idea that I was considering starting but did not have a clear idea of how it should be implemented. As I toured the housing project that was featured as part of the Main Street Now Conference, I gathered the information and inspiration needed to complete the plans for the housing development that would enhance downtown Washington and bring more residents downtown.”
Andy’s housing development includes more than 50 units from townhomes ranging from 2,200 sq. ft. to 4,000 sq. ft. to flats as well as commercial spaces. These properties are located along the downtown riverfront and in downtown providing something for every lifestyle.
With new housing comes new residents, which boasts great economic benefit for downtown by filling restaurants and attracting new businesses to fill vacancies. Alongside the economic boom, there is also the cultural aspect of the urban life where you feel part of the community, making connections with new people is easy as you see them walking downtown daily. Since the development started, over 60 new residents have been welcomed into the downtown Washington area. One of the first residents of this development was Bryan Bogue. Bryan commented on why he chose to move downtown:
“I went on a day trip during one of the Main Street Now Conferences. I was enticed by urban style living because it was healthier due to the walkability and great living situation. Once Andy started his project I let him know I wanted live in one of his properties. I was already involved in a lot of things going on downtown, like Downtown Washington Inc., so it made sense to move downtown to be closer to everything.”
Bryan’s story mirrors many others across the country who, after the pandemic, are looking at ways to have more connected lives with each other and the places where they live. Moving downtown offers a walkable lifestyle, allowing people to commute with their feet rather than by car. Following Bryan’s move downtown he opened a wine bar saying, “I wanted to be a part of the success.” With the increased foot traffic from having more people living downtown, a rich environment was created that made the development of new storefronts and filling existing properties feasible. Main Street is economic development connecting people with the resources, tools, and ideas to increase the tax base of a district and impacting entrepreneurs, residents, and visitors. Bryan’s wine bar opened as Oak & Front Wine Bar and Tasting Room. Bryan commented that “half of the members of the wine bar live downtown and often walk down to see us.” What an amazing life to be able to live, work, and play downtown.
Downtowns are always changing by adapting over time to provide the community needs while retaining the memories and history within the walls of the buildings. The addition of Andy’s development indicates a new era for Downtown Washington. Tyler King, Executive Director of Downtown Washington Inc., stated, “With the completion of Andy’s development it completed the downtown and improved our ‘place’. He did a great job at matching the design of his development with the historic red brick of our downtown.”
Missouri Main Street Connection invites you to come to Missouri’s Premier Downtown Revitalization Conference in August to experience the collaboration, the connections, and the inspiration that many like Andy, Bryan, and Tyler have experienced for themselves. You might be inspired to start a development project of overcoming a long-standing preservation challenge from what you learn in the educational sessions and from other attendees.