We love historic downtowns!

Enhancing the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of historic downtown business districts in Missouri.

Public and Private INVESTMENT

$1000000000

Net new businesses

834

Net New jobs

4109

volunteer hours

444113

Designated Missouri Main Street communities report economic impact in their districts each quarter. Cumulative totals for the program.

 

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Keith Winge

Keith has been a part of the Missouri Main Street team since 2013 as the State Community Development Coordinator working with Missouri communities to organize, develop and grow their Main Street program. Before joining Missouri Main Street, Keith was a founding board member and then the first Executive Director for the Main Street program in Excelsior Springs. Keith lives in Kansas City and when he is not traveling the state, you can find him running 5Ks, gardening or cooking and eating good food.

Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) continues to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishment of over $1 billion in private and public investment in Missouri Main Street districts since 2006, when MMSC started recording this information.  This private and public investment over the past 15 years represents 2,812 improvement projects in Main Street downtown districts that includes building rehabilitations, new buildings constructed, buildings saved, new or renovated parks, updated streetscapes and sewers, and other miscellaneous projects that improved the district for residents, workers, and visitors. 


2020 was a year of projects for the Missouri Main Street network as many communities were affected by the pandemic leading them to not necessarily operate like normal yet still accomplished great things for their district. In fact, 2020 represented the third highest year of investment since 2006 in Missouri’s Main Street districts with a total of over $70.8 million dollars. Main Street communities Washington, Independence, and Marceline completed unique projects in 2020 that illustrate how Missouri’s Main Street programs continue to revitalize their districts through innovative projects, rehabilitations, and new buildings that meet the needs of residents, workers, and visitors.

 


Washington, Missouri

Downtown Washington, Inc. reported $9 million in investments in the downtown Washington district for 2020 making it a very good year of investment in their district.   Part of this $9 million investment was one large and transformative project, the conversion of their old International Shoe Factory into apartments.  This one project represented a large investment in new housing not only for downtown but for the community.  Many rural Missouri communities are in desperate need of more housing options and this project certainly will bring those much needed apartments to Washington.  The extensive rehabilitation added 85 new one- and two-bedroom apartments while keeping many of the architectural features of the old shoe factory which creates very unique living environment for the tenants. 

 


 

The new Shoe Factory Lofts offer high ceilings, exposed beams and brick walls, along with amenities like a fitness room, onsite laundry facilities, dog park, meeting room, and green space.

 


Independence, Missouri

Total public and private investment reported by the Independence Square Association in downtown Independence totaled $183,000.  One of those improvements was a building improvement at 111 North Main Street that included improvements for one of the buildings occupants an established brewery, 3 Trails Brewing, and also created space for a new business.  3 Trails opened their doors in February of 2019 with great success but much of the building was still empty. Therefore, in 2020, the storefronts were reconfigured to make room for additional businesses to open downtown. For communities that have a tight downtown district or have lost a portion of their historic building stock and able to utilize infill; reconfiguring storefronts offers the ability to allocate an existing buildings space in a way that allows for another business to open a storefront. One of those was Flying Horse Flatbreads.  This space was reimagined by adding a commercial kitchen into the new space along with seating.  Flying Horse Flatbreads already had a storefront in Waldo, a commercial district in Kansas City, and has now expanded to Independence bringing its signature flatbread to offer the patrons in March 2020.  Since opening, the Flying Horse Flatbread company has had a symbiotic relationship with 3 Trails as beer patrons now have a food option while enjoying their favorite brew.  

 

 


Marceline, Missouri

Downtown Marceline saw over $476,000 in private and public investment in 2020 representing 25 different and unique projects.  One of those projects was a much needed restaurant downtown.  Noted in the 2018 Community Master Plan created by MMSC, the community residents and visitors wanted more restaurant choices in Marceline and downtown had several vacant buildings that would be ideal locations for a new food choice.  Los Chimas took over a space at 112 North Main Street USA in 2020 bringing not only a new restaurant but a new food type to the community.  The renovated space included a new kitchen, bar, restaurant, and COVID friendly to-go pick up window.  The community is excited about this new business and has supported it from day one.


These and the 388 other projects, rehabilitations, and new buildings in Missouri’s Main Street districts had a huge impact during COVID.  Not only were there over $70 million in investment but 151 new businesses started with 83 businesses closing or relocating outside the Main Street district resulting in 68 net new businesses started.  These new businesses resulted in 311 net new jobs created in 2020.  This number is not the largest in the past decade but beats the 10-year average of 252 net new jobs created. 


2020 will go down in the history books as one to remember for the pandemic but here at Missouri Main Street; we will mark it as the year our Main Street communities surpassed $1 billion in investment in their districts.

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The money allocated to communities by the federal and state government, to be distributed in 2021 and 2022, has city officials and many others asking how this money can best be used to support businesses and help Main Street programs revitalize downtown. With all this money available to be used, Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) has been watching and learning from other coordinating programs and local Main Street programs on how city officials can support their Main Street programs or downtown using the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as well as how Main Street programs can request funds from both the city and county for applicable projects. 


The ARPA funding was passed in 2021 and distributes money to counties and municipalities that can be used to assist Main Streets and business districts recover. There are areas of the act that allow for direct support to businesses that have suffered from the effects of the pandemic through loans, grants, or technical services. Local Main Street programs have a network and presence on the street to be able to help identify what technical services are needed for downtown and its businesses that will provide the targeted assistance needed to promote long-term success, which is the goal of the ARPA. MMSC’s staff are available to help local programs further identify areas of need and a palette of services that could be utilized to meet that need. Along with staff, MMSC has a network of specialist and consultants in various specialties to assist utilizing the Main Street ApproachTM to cover all of the quality-of-life aspects of a comprehensive strategy. You can find some of those services in our Service Directory.  

 

 


The other aspect of the ARPA funding is directed to nonprofits who are eligible for pass-through funding to build capacity for downtown revitalization. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Main Street programs are eligible to request these funds to build the capacity of the organization that directly relate to its ability and capacity to support downtown businesses through the Main Street Approach™. The best way for a Main Street program to approach the city or county is to develop a well thought out plan demonstrating the need and then proposing action items to address that need. This plan should be an updated and current comprehensive plan with identified goals and actionable items strategically addressing downtown’s needs considering the district market mix and more. Communities are in different stages across that state and may need help to establish and forecast goals for the next one to three years or develop Transformation Strategies that will direct the work of the Main Street program for the next two to five years. MMSC can provide an outside perspective, grounded in the Main Street Approach™, that guides the process and discussion on establishing the focused approach to bring together the board and committees.  There are two technical service grant options from MMSC to help with this planning process which leverage the resources of Main Street. One is the People Energizing Places (PEP) Grant, a 2-year grant that can be used for the planning process and request to the city or county as well as to help with the implementation process. The other is the Strategic Teams Engaging People (STEP) Grant, a 1-year grant that can be used for the planning process and request to the city or county. These two technical service grants are matching grants with the local program/city contributing 25% of the dollars for the services and MMSC contributing the other 75%. More information on both of these grant opportunities can be found here.

 

 


Do not miss your opportunity to leverage the dollars from the federal and state government to invest in the long-term success of your downtown district. Successful communities are distinctive communities. Our downtowns make each of us distinct from our neighbors down the road.  It is time to invest in our downtown not only for the current generation but also future generations.

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Transformation Strategies came out of the Main Street Refresh that the National Main Street Center did in 2015 and are now being integrated into their new accreditation standards, which will be rolling out in the near future.  The accreditation standards are a measure of a local Main Street program’s work and impact in their downtown district.  This assessment determines whether a local program receives the accredited designation. 

 

In 2015, the National Main Street Center created a Task Force of Main Street and downtown revitalization specialist who led what they called the Main Street Refresh, which looked at the Main Street Four Points to determine if they were still relevant since their creation in the late 1970s.  The results of the Refresh indicated that the Four Points are still very relevant to the Main Street Approach™, but the framework can be used in a more flexible way, allowing for a variety of organizational models.  It also noted that preservation still remains a focus, but additionally, the work of the Main Street program needs to be driven by an understanding of the market conditions both locally and regionally.  Community engagement is vital to the success and sustainability of any Main Street program including residents, district stakeholders, and key partners.  The last finding in the report pertains to the idea of Transformation Strategies and ties all of these things together.  The Task Force noted that “the direction of a Main Street program is guided by Transformation Strategies – economically-supportable statements around which the program develops its action plans.  Transformation Strategies incrementally create positive change in a district’s economy and are implemented through simultaneous activity across the Four Points.”  Another way of looking at Transformation Strategies is that they are economic strategies, which help guide and focus the work of the local Main Street program.  Main Street programs do not have unlimited resources so Transformation Strategies determine priorities for two to five years to get the highest return on their efforts. 

 

Transformation Strategies are being integrated into the new accreditation standards since the findings from the Refresh reinvigorate the Main Street Approach™. Transformation Strategies elevate the processes, strategic planning, and annual board planning sessions that Main Street has used to successfully revitalize their district by refining the rough edges.  We all have experienced planning sessions and meetings that have felt like an exercise in herding cats.   There are many forces pulling and pushing a Main Street board of directors.  This new Transformation Strategy focus provides guidance for the local program using community input, light market analysis, and some outside help and support.  In the pilot communities utilizing Transformation Strategies, the board of directors and executive directors liked the new process because it helped them focus the work of the committees but also allowed them to say NO to certain things because it did not fit into the current strategies. 

 

The development of Transformation Strategies is not rocket science, but the process of community input, analyzing market information, and looking at current conditions brings the necessary steps into focus for creating those impactful economic strategies to move the district forward for the next 2-5 years. 

 

Missouri Main Street Connection is currently working with our communities to develop Transformation Strategies to focus their revitalization work and prepare for the National Main Street Center’s new accreditation standard to roll out in the near future. The Accredited and Associate Tiered organizations are undergoing the process of developing Transformation Strategies if they have not already done so in past years. This framework has involved a meeting with the board of directors and the staff to review the process, evaluate past successes and opportunities, gather organizational and district information, and prepare for an online community survey.  The 16-question survey was developed to garner information on how the community views downtown, how they currently use downtown, and what they would like to see downtown.  The results of the survey are evaluated with demographic and market data to start painting a picture of opportunities and needs in the downtown district.  Missouri Main Street Connection staff analyzes the data along with past knowledge of the district and community to recommend one to two Transformation Strategies for the board of directors to consider.  After board discussion and adoption, the organization begins to integrate the strategies into current projects or events, while also brainstorming new project or events with the goal of implementing economic change within the district that align with the new focus. 

 

Missouri Main Street Connection also currently uses the Transformation Strategy development process in the Community Empowerment Grant program with new communities establishing a Main Street program to establish the process of strategy development as a foundational tool for the organization in the beginning. 

 

For more information on The Main Street Refresh or Transformation Strategies, visit the Main Street Resource Library under the Organization Point at www.MoMainStreet.org.  

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The USDA Rural Grant named by Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) the My Community Matters Grant ended in 2021 after providing over 29 services for 10 different Main Street districts.  The services provided followed the National Main Street Four-Points of Design, Economic Vitality, Organization, and Promotion for the following communities: Brunswick, Butler, Canton, Concordia, Fayette, Kirksville, Knob Noster, Odessa, Monroe City, Rockaway Beach, Sikeston, and Willow Springs.

 

The services provided ranged from branding and marketing, development of communication tools, business development, store design consultations, façade photo-renderings, placemaking, streetscape design, board and volunteer development, and upper floor housing development. We have shared many of the products developed over the past 2 years of the grant and would like to share some of the highlights from various communities.

 

Communications Tools

 

Fayette Main Street participated in the IMPACT Communications exercise with 4 other Main Street organizations. This exercise involved the board of directors to assist in the creation of communications fact sheets to help demonstrate the impact of downtown and Main Street to various stakeholders within and outside the community.

Marketing Tools

Downtown Monroe City’s Main Street organization plans an annual fundraiser called the Pig and Swig to promote the agricultural heritage of their community. Ben Muldrow, branding specialist, created a full branding toolkit for the organization and their events.

 

Streetscape Designs

Knob Noster’s downtown district received a streetscape design for State Street from Andy Kalback. Andy provided not only recommendations about the design of the street and sidewalks but also provided placemaking suggestions for parklets and fun, creative crosswalks.

 

Façade Photo Renderings

Randy Wilson, architect and design specialist, provided façade renderings for almost every community that participated in the My Community Matters grant program. Many have been implemented with plans for many others to be implemented soon. Photo renderings provide guidance, inspiration, and details on the potential for a building that is sought out by the owners or city officials. Many times a photo rendering can be accompanied by a façade grant program.

 

While the My Community Matters grant program is coming to an end, the impacts of the program are still being measured. As the projects in these Main Street districts continue to develop and come to fruition, the impact will be measured from dollars invested to businesses opened and jobs created. If your Main Street program or downtown district is interested in receiving services like those outlined above, reach out to Missouri Main Street or check out the Service Directory here. 

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By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the American Rescue Plan, one of the largest economic rescue plans in American history. It has a mix of initiatives to help economic recovery and to fight COVID-19's impact. The nearly $2 trillion plan is complex, and without guidance, it is hard to understand all of the uses and eligible activities for local communities or downtowns to utilize. Luckily, there have been several organizations following along for guidance from the federal government on the uses and application of the funds that will be disbursed to local municipalities, counties, and state governments.


“Municipalities and counties can use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State and Local Funding to help Main Streets and business districts recover.” Main Street America has been following the U.S. Treasury Interim Final Report along with other entities to provide guidance for local Main Street programs.


There are three main areas for Main Street action related to the ARPA funds.


For Small Businesses: ARPA funds can be used to financially assist businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Small businesses and non-profits, through ARPA, are eligible for grants, loans, and services that include: prevention measures or mitigation, technical assistance, counseling, or other services to assist with business planning needs. More information can be found on pages 34-35 of the U.S. Treasury Interim Final Report document.

                 

      

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

For Main Street Programs: If your Main Street program is a non-profit, ARPA allows for its funds to directly invest in building capacity and provide support for downtown revitalization. Multiple surveys have shown that Main Street programs were instrumental in supporting the business community downtown during the pandemic.


Main Street programs became communication tools advising small businesses on ways to adjust their business model during lock-downs and then reopen safely. Main Street programs worked with cities on new zoning, relaxing existing zoning to support more outdoor seating, or to-go alcohol sales to remove barriers for struggling businesses. ARPA funding can be used to ensure proper funding for staffing the Main Street program and assist with direct funding as fundraising efforts have been affected by the pandemic.


For Business District Recovery: The U.S. Treasury identified business districts as an impacted industry, so State and local ARPA funds can be directed towards the needs of the entire downtown business district (page 36). See more details on how the district can qualify through lost revenue on pages 58-60 which it includes employment loss or business income lost. Other qualifying metrics include vacancy rates, rent per square foot, reduced sales tax, or foot traffic. Look at your district to determine what might best work. Estimates are that 30% of restaurants closed nationwide and that may be your indicator of impact in your district. Business district financial support may be used for district-wide marketing, placemaking, and streetscape improvements. Business district support should also consider investing in the future of the district through entrepreneur support, district recruitment planning, or specialized support for retailers or restauranteurs.


Main Street America stated that “most Main Street businesses (73%) were started by local entrepreneurs – not outside recruitment activities. To support business district recovery, municipalities should support entrepreneurial ecosystem building activities.”


If you need help with business recovery activities or support, Missouri Main Street Connection is equipped to help. Missouri Main Street offers several matching grants to provide services to your downtown revitalization efforts.

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I am an avid gardener and love sticking my hands in the dirt.  Playing in the dirt allows me time to reflect and process work-related challenges and opportunities.  As I was planting some spring flowers recently, I was reflecting on the old saying about when to plant a tree.  The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago with the second-best time being today.  Of course, you benefit from a tree planted 20 years ago as the tree now offers shade, beauty and strength from years of growth.  If it is a fruit tree, you enjoy the fruit that it now produces as a mature tree.  If you didn’t plant that tree 20 years ago, then the next best time to plant a tree is today. 

The same goes for downtown revitalization – the best time to start a revitalization organization or project was 20 years ago with the next best time being today.  Had we begun our efforts in rehabilitating buildings, adding pocket parks, or creating that event over 20 years ago, we would now be enjoying the fruits of our labor.   I think many communities get into that mode of “it’s too late” to start or we should have done that a long time ago.  True.  But if you didn’t get started years ago, you can start today.  Make that call to garner support from property and business owners, contact Missouri Main Street for assistance, or begin that project that has been on the shelf for years.  It isn’t too late.  In fact, today is the second-best time to get started. 

 

Missouri Main Street offers several grants to assist you in your efforts in planting those seeds of downtown economic development in your community.  Contact Keith Winge, Community Development Coordinator at kwinge@momainstreet.org for more information.  

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As Missouri Main Street Connection (MMSC) celebrates a decade of successful nonprofit service in Missouri, we are reflecting on all things to the power of 10.  Here are 10 services provided by Missouri Main Street.

Coordinating Program for Missouri.  The National Main Street contracts with Missouri Main Street to administer the Main Street Four-Point Approach® to downtown revitalization in Missouri.  This is very powerful because it allows the communities in Missouri to utilize the Main Street program and all that brings with it:  the network, the brand, the resources and the partnerships.  Not every state has a coordinating program and several have come and gone due to budgeting and personnel.  MMSC is strong because of the relationships with our Main Street organizations, the State of Missouri through the Department of Economic Development and the legislators, the local municipalities and the MMSC board of directors. 

Accreditation.  Through an extensive annual review of the Main Street programs in Missouri, MMSC is able to accredit the best Main Street programs in the state alongside the National Main Street Center.  National accreditation is a big deal.  It is based upon the National Main Street 10-Point Criteria which measures the organization’s capacity, leadership, community involvement and effectiveness.  There are currently only six accredited Main Street programs in Missouri:  Old Town Cape, Inc. (Cape Girardeau), Main Street Chillicothe, Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, Historic Downtown Liberty, Warrensburg Main Street, and Downtown Washington, Inc. 

Tier System.  When MMSC started in 2006, it had resurrected itself from a state run organization into a non-profit with only 10 communities in the network.  Today MMSC has assisted more than 170 communities across the state.  With a staff of four people, that assistance had to be categorized into tiers.  The more invested a community is in the Main Street program, the more services MMSC could offer.  This four-tier system offers phone consultation, technical and organizational visits along with board planning sessions and access to the resource library for members via the MMSC website.  You can learn more about the services offered through the tier system online.

State Conference.  Every July MMSC offers the only statewide educational and networking event for commercial district revitalization that blends economic development, community revitalization and historic preservation.  It brings together experts in the field of downtown revitalization into three days of educational sessions, in-the-field tours and networking.  The conference also features the Evening of Excellence awards recognizing the best in Missouri Main Street communities.  Visit the conference website for details.  Don’t miss this year’s conference on July 26-28. 

Cultivating Place Training, Kansas City, MO

Quarterly Workshops.  It is written in the Missouri Main Street mission that providing tools and resources to Missouri communities and one of the ways that is achieved is through quarterly workshops held in the spring and fall.  These workshops focus on a specific aspect of the Main Street Four-Point Approach®.  The most recent workshops have been focused on economic vitality through education on real estate investment, attracting and retaining businesses and marketing those spaces in downtowns.  Missouri Main Street members receive a discount on these training opportunities.  Mark your calendar for November 11, 2016, for the next workshop in Chillicothe.

Grant Programs.  Because of the funds Missouri Main Street receives from the State of Missouri, grants, memberships and fundraising, it can offer service grants.  These grants are varied in the services they offer with the Affiliate Grant guiding a community with starting and building a Main Street program.  The People Energizing Places and Strategic Teams Engaging Places grants assist a Main Street community in growing the organization’s capacity and effectiveness.  All of these grants are matching with Missouri Main Street assuming 60-75% of the costs. 

Technical Services.  Maybe you don’t need a grant but a specialized service to grow.  Missouri Main Street offers a full list of services ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of days.  Some of these services include conducting a community visioning session, board strategic planning session, customer service training, technical visit on economic development or a multi-day downtown strategic planning session.  The complete list is available online. 

2016 Annual Conference, Kansas City, MO

Partnerships/Relationships.  Missouri Main Street has relationships with other state-wide organizations that can be utilized by downtown organizations to assist in the revitalization efforts.  The Department of Economic Development, State Historic Preservation Office, Certified Local Government Program, Missouri Preservation, Missouri Arts Council, USDA, AARP and many others have programs and resources for Missouri communities.  Contact us for more information.

Networking.  Everything Missouri Main Street does revolves around the downtown communities being served.  With that in mind, the act of bringing people together to share ideas and learn from one another is vital to everyone’s success.  Missouri Main Street receives feedback every year on the value of conversing with other Main Street professionals and learning from their successes and failures.  Take advantage of this service because in many cases, there is no need to re-invent the wheel.

2016 Main Street Showcase, Jefferson City


Advocacy. 
And last but certainly not least, Missouri Main Street promotes and shouts from the downtown rooftops the importance of downtown revitalization in Missouri communities.  This shouting is to state legislators, local politicians, business owners, property owners, residents, visitors and many others within a community.  This advocacy also belongs to the local effort doing Main Street…believing in the principle of locally controlled decisions based upon the wants and needs of the local community.  Main Street is a volunteer lead, volunteer driven, locally empowered organization doing economic development while preserving a community’s historic assets.  If you believe in this idea, then Main Street is for you!

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What does community development mean to you?  In the Main Street world, community development is economic development with a historic preservation emphasis.  This translates into developing customers, places, resources and businesses – a comprehensive focus.  Over 2,000 communities across the country utilizing Main Street and its principles can’t be wrong.  So if your community hasn’t already invested in Main Street, how do you get started?

There are many ways to get started but the easiest is to utilize Missouri Main Street’s Affiliate Grant Program.  This program is a two-year, hands-on platform to assist with establishing or jump-starting a Main Street program in the community.  It can either help with building the organization from scratch including by-laws and 501(c)3 filing or help an already created organization implement the Main Street Four-Point Approach® to revitalization.  In both scenarios, the Affiliate Grant Program assists with gathering feedback and buy-in from the community, provides direction in creating priorities, and trains the organization and community on the Main Street principles.  The hands-on approach and two years of consultation in the community reduces the learning curve so the revitalization process can take hold much quicker than without the Affiliate Grant Program. 

In the last three years, over 16 communities have completed or are currently in the program.  Blue Springs graduated from the program in 2013, hired their first executive director in 2014, and attained the Associate Tier level by 2015.  Board member and newly hired executive director, Cindy Miller, has shared that “the formula provided by Missouri Main Street provides the structure that enables a group of people to work together.  Structure is the key to the success of any project and the Affiliate Grant Program provides just that.”

Since 2008, the Affiliate communities have experienced over $28 million in redevelopment and rehabilitation in both the private and public sectors.  The Main Street program provides that structure and comprehensive approach to redevelopment which sets the stage for investors and entrepreneurship.  With development comes job creation, new businesses/expansion and increased property values, all items that contribute to the overall stability of the community. 

So as you look at your community, is it an asset or liability?  Look at your community from the perspective of a visitor, tourist, potential business owner or developer, new teacher, prospective manufacturer, or someone looking to relocate to your community.  Do they see empty storefronts or bustling sidewalks?  Crumbling buildings or rehabilitated structures?  Dirty windows and unkempt sidewalks or neat landscaping and benches for shoppers? 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” is a quote by Margaret Mead that we use to demonstrate the power of the local community.  Someday is here…what are you waiting for?

The next Affiliate Grant Workshop is March 9, 2016, in Jefferson City.  To participate in the program, someone from the community must attend the workshop.  This workshop is free to attend but an RSVP is required.  Find more information here

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As our Main Street leaders depart from a meeting with the White House on rural placemaking, it reminds me that our downtowns provide a “living room” for the community. It is the gathering place for celebrations, protests, mournings and traditions. A lot has taken place these past few days that re-enforces that concept. The attacks in Paris have brought people to the public squares to mourn as a people but also to demonstrate resolve for the freedom to assemble. As we prepare for the holiday season of both Thanksgiving and Christmas, downtowns are preparing for lighting ceremonies and parades. 

Communities for centuries have used the public squares, courthouse lawns and city parks in downtowns to gather for all sorts of purposes. The town crier used to make announcements from the city center, election results were distributed from the courthouse steps, and funerals would wind through the downtown streets to the local cemetery. Today’s downtowns provide the same opportunities with parades through downtown streets, movies on the courthouse lawn, music in the park and festivals lining the streets. All of these activities bring a community together to get to know one another better, to have neighborly conversations, and to cordially debate local and national issues face-to-face instead of from behind a computer screen. We need these downtown outlets for a community to be a community. So, get out there and enjoy your community’s living room.

(This blog post also reminds me of the awesome experience I had to spend some time with my community in Kansas City to celebrate the Kansas City Royals winning of the World Series. I joined the over 800,000 neighbors that gathered with their families in the city center—our living room in Kansas City—to celebrate our boys in blue. And I might add that with over 800,000 people gathered, only three non-neighborly folks were arrested for misbehaving. So again, get out and enjoy your downtown living room.)

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Last week while visiting the great folks at Moberly Main Street, I had the opportunity to hear author and revitalization maverick Ron Drake. Ron wrote the book Flip This Town and has been a speaker/presenter at National Main Street conferences in the past. The Moberly Chamber of Commerce hosted Ron as the keynote speaker at their annual dinner and I was invited to sit at the Main Street table…thank you Moberly Main Street. 

 

Ron grew up in California where he was in the construction business. After visiting Siloam Springs, Arkansas, he fell in love with the community and moved there where he began buying, fixing and selling properties. Having never been a commercial property owner or developer myself, it was very insightful to hear about revitalization from the developer’s perspective. 

 

From the presentation in Moberly, you can tell that Ron loves properties and he details his passion in his book where he talks about the ability to see through the walls. Ron can see through the botched renovations or previous “upgrades” that hide the building’s details. Through his restorations, Ron uncovers those features and brings back the true character of the building. 

 

One of his first building rehabilitations was a two-story residential building that suffered damage from a fire. Ron saw the potential and turned it into a multi-family apartment showcasing the character of the building while adding in his own creative touches. The building also served as Ron’s office before it was sold this past month. 

 

Ron shared that these projects don’t have to be expensive. He is the master of finding cheap ways to transform properties into hip, classy places that people want to live, shop or eat. He likes to reuse and recycle materials to give a unique look to his restorations. 

Ron talked about and shared many of his success stories. As the years passed, he moved to larger and larger projects. He shared his best and worst project, the Creekview Flats. He was denied financing, a first for him. Every day he was asked about the project and felt his past success had prepared him for this rehab. After convincing his wife’s boss to back the project, work began on creating high-end apartments. He went over budget and removed too much of the building’s historic nature by adding an overdose of artistic bling. Even with these issues, the project was a huge success because it garnered local, regional and national attention highlighting the turn-around taking place in Siloam Springs. 

 

When working on a project, Ron uses his “preservation made practical” approach. If you think about how different entities/people look at a historic building, nothing will ever get done or it will be more costly. Electrical inspectors want all new wiring, the building inspectors want a more secure foundation or new plumbing, and the banker wants a good termite inspection and positive cash flow. His “preservation made practical” approach first looks at the structure of the building and then designs the restoration around a practical, affordable, creative and vibrant plan. Some properties were more historically accurate while others were more simple and practical. 

 

Ron’s development work didn’t happen in a vacuum. Ron began working with the Siloam Springs Main Street program. In his book, Flip This Town, he outlines the actions taken by the program to spur the revitalization process forward and to the next level. They:

  1. Became part of the Arkansas Downtown Network, the state-wide program.
  2. Took advantage of every training opportunity offered by the state Main Street program.
  3. Aligned themselves with the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce.
  4. Attended city council meetings.
  5. Started meeting with large corporations in Siloam Springs.
  6. Visited every business in downtown and asked “what can we do for you?”
  7. Hired a full-time director.
  8. Applied and was approved to become an official state Main Street program.
  9. Became the “go-to” organization in Siloam Springs.
  10. Started seeing the fruits of their hard work with growth in businesses, events and life.

 

The culmination of these factors lead to Smithsonian Magazine naming Siloam Springs as one of the 20 Best Small Towns in America in 2012. As Ron would say, Siloam Springs was an overnight success that took over six years. 

 

Ron Drake now serves as a consultant sharing the successes and inspiration of Siloam Springs. Ron is passionate about what he does and loves to share his story. You can find out more on his website at http://rondrakeconsulting.com/. You can also pick up his book at your local bookstore or on his website. Ron is a true inspiration and you can bet Siloam Springs is on my “to visit” list.  

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