How Strong Is Your State Main Street Program?

As the economic decline trickles down through state government budget cuts, many Main Street Coordinating Programs have felt the impact, with reductions in services and staff. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) has actively engaged in coordinating advocacy in seven states over the past few months, helping local program leaders build coalitions to preserve funding and projects they vitally need. Sadly, a few programs have suffered significant cuts, despite the best efforts of advocates at the local and national levels. 

Eustis is one of 46 local Main Street communities in Florida.

Credit: Eustis Main Street, Inc.

Yet, there are a few bright spots, as well. In Florida, alarms went out on April 1, 2009, as legislators were proposing a 67 percent cut in the state's Main Street budget for services to local programs. National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC) Assistant Director Lauren Adkins and Senior Program Officer Teresa Lynch worked with Gail Hamilton of Friends of Florida Main Street, Inc.; Doris Tillman, Main Street Fort Pierce, Inc.; Karen Nickless, NTHP Southern Regional Office; and Malinda J. Horton of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation to turn the tide. It took three conference calls and more than 10 e-mails involving the nine board members of the Friends of Florida Main Street, Inc., representatives from the state's 46 local Main Street programs, and an e-alert to NTHP members living in Florida; but at the end of the day, Main Street prevailed, stronger than ever. As a result of the statewide coalition efforts, Florida Main Street actually received an INCREASE in funding. 

Florida Main Street Coordinator Joan Jefferson praised the National Trust for its help: " I sincerely believe that the National Trust and the NTMSC were directly responsible for the 40 percent increase in the historic preservation/Main Street grant." 

Residents of Butte and other Montana Main Street communities bombarded state legislators with requests to reinstate Main Street funding.

Credit: Mainstreet Uptown Butte

In Montana, statewide advocates overcame similar obstacles. Support for the program came from both the national and local levels. While the Mountains/Plains Regional Office engaged the NTHP's advocacy network and released an e-alert, local supporters mobilized.

"Residents of Main Street communities, and others interested in the program, bombarded members of the House Appropriations Committee with phone calls, e-mails, and letters, urging them to put the Main Street program back into the general fund budget," says Montana Main Street Coordinator Julie Burk.  "I don't think legislators anticipated so much support for such a small (financially) program. The outcry forced many legislators to learn about Main Street and why it is so important to small towns in the state. Supporters of Montana Main Street argued that it is one of the few programs designed to provide services to small towns, which often don't receive that kind of assistance."

Montana's strong advocacy effort was rewarded as the House Appropriations Committee reinstated funding for the program by an overwhelming vote. However, the source of the funding was changed from general revenue to stimulus money.

 While we can celebrate some limited success stories such as Montana and Florida, there are many other threats looming on the horizon. In Louisiana, for example, two staff members were recently laid off from Louisiana Main Street, reducing the program's staff by 44 percent and severely limiting its ability to provide field services to the state's 35 local Main Street programs. 

The NTMSC is committed to continuing our support of local and statewide advocacy, but the key ingredients are the commitment and involvement of local leaders.  Many local program managers are shy about advocacy, but they shouldn't be.  For tips on actions you can take to build support among your elected officials, read our story, "Making the Case for Main Street."

For more information about Main Street advocacy, check out the following issues of Main Street News: February 2003 and January 2005.

You can also get more information about public policy help from the National Trust for Historic Preservation