Morgantown, West Virginia

Minnesota | Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 10/16/2008

Morgantown (pop. 25,879) is known statewide as "The University City," home to West Virginia University. The main campus borders the northern boundary of downtown, with more than 22,000 students and 5,000 faculty and staff using downtown.

Years ago Morgantown's future wasn't as promising as it is today. In the late 1970s, Morgantown was beginning to see the emergence of regional shopping malls and suburban strip centers. During this time, downtown lost two local department stores and two national chains. The loss of these stores affected the customer base downtown, which impacted smaller retailers. At this time, the vacancy rate far exceeded the occupancy rate downtown.

In the early 1980s, a group of civic-minded citizens traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a revitalization seminar facilitated by the National Trust Main Street Center. In January of 1984, Main Street Morgantown was established to promote the economic and aesthetic revitalization of downtown through the Main Street Four-Point Approach™ to downtown revitalization.

Beginning in 1986, the program began to take on bigger challenges in the areas of design, economic restructuring, and promotion of downtown. The first urban tree projects were completed, and attention was given to building facades and green space downtown. The City provided support for these efforts by providing funding and assigning a beat patrol officer. Business recruitment became a priority; the recruitment effort focused on specialty stores and restaurants. Main Street Morgantown began to promote the uniqueness of the historic shopping district to local residents and visitors. Promotion involved special events, image campaigns, and sales promotions.

ln 1990, Main Street Morgantown experienced a multitude of changes. In July of that year, Main Street Morgantown became a certified West Virginia Main Street community, and began an affiliation that would enrich the revitalization program. With the assistance of the state Main Street office, which provided training and consulting, as well as funds for revitalization, Main Street Morgantown recruited over 100 new volunteers, and facilitated goals and objectives seminars.

Over the next eight years the program quadrupled in staff and activities. A director, an administrative assistant, a West Virginia University marketing intern, and a downtown maintenance worker have provided the administrative support for the revitalization organization. Today the organization's committees are involved in riverfront development, rehabilitation of a historic theater, promotional programs with West Virginia University, streetscape projects, developing and implementing urban design guidelines, recruiting businesses, and many other projects.

Morgantown was voted "The Third Best Small City in America" by The New Rating Guide to Live in America's Small Cities. Through its hard work Morgantown has created 124 new businesses, relocations, and expansion that have resulted in 630 new jobs. There have been 261 facade improvement projects, building rehabilitations, and new construction projects, totaling more $18 million in public and private investment.