Starting a new program via a pilot creates many opportunities to learn, especially in the Main Street world. That is because the Main Street Approach™ is a model with distinct principles and methodology that forms the base of any Main Street program which then can be adaptively implemented to fit the needs of a community of any size. Missouri Main Street Connection has learned lessons, made connections, and had hard work pay off since starting the urban pilot program St. Louis Main Streets in 2019. There are now three Main Street districts that are participating in the St. Louis Main Streets program who are all working to improve their little part of the larger city by implementing the time-tested principles of Main Street.
Historic commercial districts of all sizes are different in their density, housing options, services, and public spaces, but they have similarities as they each can be the center of commerce or activities for the area population or community. Each district can bring people together, which is why Main Street as a tool fits perfectly in both rural and urban districts, as it is a community-led revitalization effort focused on the quality-of-life issues related to social, economic, physical, and civic themes – the Main Street Approach™. Some of the ways that Main Street districts of all sizes can revitalize or improve their district are:
- Design: Enhancing the physical and visual assets of the district, such as improving the streetscape, signage, lighting, landscaping, and historic buildings.
Pictured Above: Mini-Façade Grant awarded to Queen’s Nail & Spa Salon by Dutchtown Main Street to promote exterior improvement of businesses that attract economic activity and show off great businesses.
- Promotion: Creating a positive image of the district and attracting customers, investors, and visitors through events, marketing, branding, and social media.
Pictured Above: Performers at Downtown Maryville’s Art, Rhythm, and Brews event.
- Economic Vitality: Strengthening the district’s economy by supporting existing businesses, encouraging new businesses, diversifying the mix of goods and services, and facilitating property development.
Pictured Above: Deli Divine opened in Delmar Main Street just off the corner of Delmar Boulevard and Belt Avenue in the Delmar DivINe building.
- Organization: Building a strong foundation for the revitalization effort by cultivating partnerships, community involvement, leadership development, fundraising, and advocacy.
Pictured Above: Community members participating in break out groups during the Town Hall hosted in West Plains where they will decide on wildly important goals to be incorporated in the foundation of the Main Street program they are forming through the Community Empowerment Grant program.
In St. Louis, through community feedback and stakeholder input, Missouri Main Street Connection helped each district identify their unique competitive advantage, leverage the power of residents and local stakeholders, and identify a series of short and long-term projects.
Each of the St. Louis Main Streets districts faced various challenges and accessed different opportunities depending on their specific context and characteristics. Some of the challenges and opportunities were:
- Competing with online shopping, big box stores, and suburban malls that offer convenience, variety, and lower prices.
- Dealing with issues such as crime, safety, cleanliness, parking, traffic, and homelessness that may deter customers and investors.
- Preserving the historic and cultural identity of the district while accommodating new development and growth.
- Engaging and representing the diverse and often marginalized stakeholders of the district, such as residents, business owners, property owners, workers, and visitors.
- Securing adequate funding, resources, and support from public and private sectors for the revitalization efforts.
- Capitalizing on the unique assets and competitive advantages of the district, such as its location, architecture, history, culture, events, and niche markets.
- Attracting and retaining customers, investors, and visitors who value the authentic, local, and human-scale experience of the district.
- Leveraging the power of residents and local stakeholders who are passionate, creative, and committed to the district’s success.
- Collaborating and partnering with other urban Main Street districts or organizations to share best practices, resources, and advocacy.
- Innovating and adapting to the changing needs and preferences of the market and the community.
One of the early lessons was in recognizing partners and opportunities with the program. St. Louis Development Corporation, the Office of the Mayor, and Greater St. Louis Inc., each identified Main Street as a priority. These entities, with their priorities, have a unique role in helping each Main Street district accomplish their specific goals and priorities for the short and long-term as partners. The implementation work is just beginning in St. Louis and Missouri Main Street Connection is working with each district to help them realize their dreams and goals.
Pictured above: Group photo of in Laclede’ Landing.
While the pilot program is coming to an end in 2023, Missouri Main Street Connection’s work is not finished in St. Louis. Other urban commercial and neighborhood districts throughout St. Louis and the state have expressed interest in organizing a Main Street program, implementing the Main Street principles, and making change in their little part of a larger city. If you are interested in starting an urban Main Street program, check out the Urban Forum at Missouri Main Street’s Downtown Revitalization Conference in St. Louis. It will feature a Main Street America representative sharing urban success stories from across the country as well as each St. Louis District sharing their journey, accomplishments to date, and goals for the future. The Urban Forum will be on Wednesday, July 26th from 10am to 11:30am and is free to attend. If you are interested in attending the Urban Forum and learning more about urban district revitalization, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.