Looking Back on This Week's National Main Streets Conference

Posted on: April 5th, 2012 by Andrea Dono 2 Comments

“After 30 years, we are an overnight success.”

That’s how Randy Hemann, the executive director of Downtown Salisbury, Inc. in North Carolina, summed up his downtown’s road to revitalization. All heads nodded in agreement with him at the Advisor-sponsored “Preservation as an Economic Engine” session because they knew that the hallmark of a Main Street program is a steady pace of incremental improvements and achievements.

The Montgomery Ward Building on Salisbury, North Carolina's Main Street. (Photo: lumierefl on Flickr)

As Heritage Ohio said on Twitter:

That was a common thread during the 2012 National Main Streets Conference. Randy shared stunning comparisons of the number of jobs created per acre for a big-box store outside of his downtown -- 13.3 jobs per acre -- against 155 jobs per acre on Main Street. When you rehab a typical two-to-three story, mixed-use historic building, the density works favorably for your local economy and job creation. Simply put, the Main Street concept works.

Jeff Schwartz, executive director of Broad Community Connections in New Orleans, underscored this on the “Ain’t That Preservation?” panel when he pointed out that Main Street work meets the triple bottom line -- financial, social, and environmental impacts -- which leverages any project. Broad Street is using an innovative commercial land trust model to rehab a mid-century modern building that will become a grocery and community kitchen -- a project that saves a building, creates jobs, and fills a neighborhood need.

The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club (parade organizers) on North Broad Street in New Orleans. (Photo: New Orleans Lady on Flickr)

Main Street programs can meet the triple bottom line because they layer preservation with outreach, events, community engagement, small business development and support, and so much more. That’s what makes the National Main Streets Conference so exciting every year. This year, we covered topics that ran the gamut from creating arts districts, advocacy, Pinterest, crowdsourced placemaking, greening historic buildings, and smart phone app development, to tours that highlighted urban farms and beer and wine trails.

Main Street practitioners love sharing and learning from each other. For the first time, we convened our program leaders from urban communities to discuss how can adapt the Main Street methodology to meet their needs, which differ slightly from small and rural towns. We also provided a venue for long-term managers and brand-new practitioners to have a dialog, too. I've never seen such camaraderie among professionals until I started working in Main Street, and the conference reminds me of this every year.

Pig race at the annual Pigtown Festival. (Photo: elh70 on Flickr)

Baltimore was a blast. There was so much to learn, see, and do -- and Main Streeters know how to have a good time when they get together. The clouds parted long enough for us to enjoy Opening Reception in the shadows of Camden Yards. We took tours of the ball park and watched “hot dog” and piglet races. (Piglet races? Yep - Baltimore’s Pigtown Main Street historically was the main drag for the livestock that was led from the train station to the slaughter houses on opposite ends of the district.)

We also had our last party at the amazing B&O Railroad Museum that has a gorgeous collection of vintage trains. Its rehabbed roundhouse was a sweet venue for dancing all night to one of the best cover bands I’ve ever heard.

Overall, this was an amazing, inspiring, informative, and fun week -- mostly because we have an amazing, inspiring, informative, and fun network of Main Streeters. We hope to see you next year in New Orleans!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Andrea Dono

Andrea Dono is the program manager of research and training at the National Trust Main Street Center. She helps guide the educational content for the National Main Streets Conference as well as tracks revitalization trends, develops case studies, and helps produce Main Street Now.

Conferences, General

2 Responses

  1. Will Harnack

    April 6, 2012

    Excellent summary of the experience of this year’s Main Streets conference. I’d just like to give a shout out to the band at the Opening Reception. They absolutely killed. Loved Tuesday night at B&O but not my kind of music. Great train museum! I also found Mr. Hemann’s analysis of jobs and tax base amazing (and easy to understand). Just listened again online. A great conference, thanks to the organizers and all fellow participants.

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