Main Street Program Revives Historic Tennessee Downtowns
Downtown Murfreesboro, TN
Tennessee has 21 certified Main Street communities, including Murfreesboro, TN.
Before shopping malls, big-box retailers and chain restaurants became the norm, downtown was the place to be in any community. And the Tennessee Main Street Program is working to make that true again. A statewide program of the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Tennessee Main Street Program is part of a national network of Main Street programs that operate under the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “We provide guidance in developing long-term strategies to assist communities in revitalizing their downtown historic areas,” says Kimberly Franklin Nyberg, Tennessee Main Street Program manager. “Tennessee is blessed with tiny towns and metropolitan cities, and all our communities have a history, a home place. Main Street identifies those tiny historic squares and downtown areas.” Tennessee has 21 certified Main Street communities, including Rogersville, which was added in March 2007. One of the benefits of becoming a certified Main Street community is eligibility to apply for Innovation Grants from the state. Each of the 20 communities that applied for grants in 2006 received $10,000 for revitalization projects. The Main Street Program follows a four-point approach to downtown revitalization: design, promotion, economic restructuring and organization. Design refers to the visual aspects of a community historic buildings, cleanliness, streetlights and landscaping. Promotion involves rekindling the pride of downtown by drawing attention downtown with things like festivals, heritage reenactments, music and farmers markets, Nyberg explains. Economic restructuring refers to recruiting and retaining businesses downtown, creating second-floor living spaces, making downtown user-friendly and walkable, and adding technological benefits such as Wi-Fi. The last point, organization, means building partnerships among groups and individuals that care about downtown. “Main Street is a unique economic development program, because it relies on both public and private investment. It’s a beautiful blend of the two,” Nyberg says. “Last year, we had $83 million reinvested in 20 Tennessee communities through private and public investment.” In 2006, Tennessee’s 20 Main Street communities saw 556 new downtown jobs created, 96 new downtown businesses, 43 new construction projects and 58 new downtown housing spaces. Fayetteville, which became a Main Street community 17 years ago, has seen the benefits of the program firsthand. “We have a 6 percent vacancy rate downtown right now, and before it was as much as 30 percent,” says Susan Hancock, executive director of Fayetteville Main Street. “Years ago, we had quite a few empty buildings and even homeless sleeping in them, but we have a thriving downtown today. Our square is the heart of our community.” Fayetteville’s square is dotted with coffee shops, boutiques, art galleries and even a historic theater. It hosts one of the largest Christmas festivals in the Southeast, drawing a crowd of 25,000 people, as well as several other annual events. “Main Street communities show a level of pride in who they are and where they came from. They respect their past and apply new ways of thinking to promote future economic growth,” Nyberg says. “We encourage communities to be both lovely and lively, and when those come together, it’s a beautiful thing.”