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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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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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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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