Jacksonville Main Street

2012 Great American Main Street Award

Jacksonville, Illinois

Award Type: GAMSA

The Numbers Over 12 Years

  • Main Street began: 1999
  • Population: 19,466
  • Net new jobs: 131
  • Net new businesses: 57
  • Building rehabs:65
  • New buildings: 1
  • Vacancy rate when Main Street began: 27%
  • Vacancy rate now: 6%
  • Housing units: 13
  • Public investment: $7,6000,000
  • Private investment: $17,600,000

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In Their Own Words

In 1974, Urban Renewal destroyed Jacksonville’s vibrant historic business district, leaving it hopeless in surviving big-box invasions, national recessions, and disastrous social trends. Jacksonville Main Street united people working toward common goals for bigger impact, like successfully saving the country’s oldest Labor Temple. Even without guidance from a state Main Street program, JMS stayed-the-course with comprehensive programs to tackle even the toughest challenges with innovative solutions that obtained Federal funds for traffic restoration and dispelled negative attitudes about downtown viability with 24/7 occupancy, low vacancy rates, increased property values, new jobs, and business retention programs.    

Jacksonville Main Street celebrated each milestone, sharing well-earned accolades with dedicated partners and volunteers who strived to fulfill the vision of driving around the square, parking in front of unique shops, reclaiming architectural character, dining outside cafes, and visiting downtown museums and galleries. Their dedication accomplished the impossible: transforming “the place to avoid” into “the place to be.” Over 5,000 people attended the day-long square rededication party and proudly navigated the city center for the first time in decades, many traveling from out-of-state to participate. Their contagious exuberance has increased volunteer activism and community awareness, while changing naysayers citywide into reluctant optimists for downtown revitalization.

Jacksonville Main Street began touting the rewards of revitalization in 1999, resolutely urging preparations for the anticipated interest that traffic restoration and physical improvements would bring, repeating the mantra: small steps to success and be ready for it to come. It has arrived and we are basking in it.

They're Not Done Yet

Q: What are your district’s strategic initiatives for the next five years?

A: Jacksonville Main Street volunteers are excited about the future after successfully achieving the goal of undoing Urban Renewal with projects that fulfill much of the 1999 vision statement. The organization’s re-visioning process will include solutions for common Main Street programs: parking, business retention/recruiting, beautification, branding, and marketing issues.    

Focus will be directed towards reopening two arterial traffic routes through downtown and promoting additional economic growth in depressed areas north of the business district. Security enhancements with lights and cameras at key locations will reinforce downtown’s new-found sense of wellbeing.   Committees are currently planning for kiosks and signage to direct visitors seeking retail, heritage, and fine-art attractions. Partners are plotting installation of free wi-fi and online tools to boost communication throughout and about downtown. Already a new Arts Center is committed to locating downtown, while expansions to existing theaters, museums, and entertainment facilities will attract more visitors.    

Enterprise Zone, TIF District, and other existing program enhancements will promote more reinvestment and meet bigger challenges. JMS will explore district National Register and Local Landmark designations and develop new incentives designed to champion preservation-friendly building and business improvements that maintain the historic flavor and attract new people to live, work, and play downtown.   

Volunteers will be better trained with the new state program. Greater involvement of students will be encouraged through public art and community service projects, adding to the list of stakeholders. More joint projects between Chamber, Visitors Bureau, Economic Development, and government agencies will strengthen partnerships and benefit downtown inhabitants.