Main Street Coordinators Meet in Nashville

Twice a year staff from Main Street Coordinating Partners throughout the country formally gather to discuss issues facing programs in their state, county or city as well as issues facing the local Main Street communities they work with. Coordinating Partners are the city, county or statewide administrators responsible for the compliance of local programs with the 10 criteria for National Main Street Accreditation. They also provide local programs with technical assistance, everything from architectural design to small business to training in the four points of the Main Street approach. 

Members of the Main Street Coordinators Executive Committee pose for a photo at the 2009 National Preservation Conference in Nashville: Front row, left to right: Beppe LeGrand, Elizabeth Chase, Diane Laird, Monica Miller. Back row, left to right: Bob Wilson; Bob Donohue, Cary Tyson, Linda Barnett, Mike Gioulis, and Thom Guzman.

Credit: Lauren Adkins

Traditionally, we meet in conjunction with the annual National Preservation Conference and just before the National Main Streets Conference. There was a time when coordinators met in Washington, DC in the fall, but alas, that is another story. 

The meetings are meant to provide a twice yearly check-up for coordinators. It gives us a chance not only to meet up with our peers but also to keep up with 'best practices' on both the coordinating and local level. The agenda changes from meeting to meeting, but we always try to catch up with what's going on throughout the National Trust, along with the latest news from the National Trust Main Street Center (NTMSC). This year we had a breakout session on the most innovative things the NTMSC Road Warriors have come across during their many travels. The Main Street Center's Road Warriors, for those who might not know, consist of Todd Barman, Kathy LaPlante, Teresa Lynch, and Norma Ramirez de Miess. These members of numerous frequent flyer and frequent hotel visitor clubs reported on everything from the increase in street art that's popping up in many of our downtowns to the rising use of the Internet to produce distance-learning trainings, particularly in rural areas. Some examples were low-tech, such as the program in Liberty, Mo., where local leaders planned a picnic after Missouri Main Street Connection's "Get Plugged in…Downtown Conference." Note that the folks from Liberty organized the picnic before they left for Kansas City and then held their debriefing within a few weeks after the conference. About 30 people attended.

These days, no meeting is complete without a conversation about how the economy is affecting your budget. Our meeting was no different. Main Street Coordinating Programs are feeling the pinch of the recession just like everyone else. We learned, generally, that programs are trying some creative things to cut corners. Programs are being more strategic in their travels, producing their own trainings, and delaying capital upgrades (purchasing computers, etc).  

Now that Main Street is close to 30 years old, we as coordinators and leaders in downtown revitalization are taking a look at how we do things, how the Main Street Four-Point Approach® is managed and implemented by veteran communities. Some coordinators argue that a certain amount of creative destruction is needed, that we can't stick so rigidly to the approach that we forsake innovation. This is happening in a number of ways.  Michigan Main Street (MMSC)has become a leader in web 2.0 outreach (see Joe Borgstrom's recent blog post about MMSC's video work and view their new video). Mississippi Main Street's post-disaster charettes are worthy of everyone's attention; and the conversation on ER 2.0 (current leading title – Enterprise) continues. All of these things fall within the Main Street Four-Point Approach® but are an evolution from the services of the first 20+ years. For example, some smaller communities have received design sketches for all of their downtown buildings. These concepts often stand the test of time and there is no need to repeat that particular service. 

At this meeting, we had a strategic conversation on how on-site technical assistance evolves for mature programs. This conversation will continue, but we noted that the relationships that develop from on-site services are the most important tool to ensure that technical assistance is delivered to communities over the long term. Design technical assistance, for example, is shifting from renderings to more architectural specific advice given in person and often followed-up with a memo or brief. 

On Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Linda Barnett of Oklahoma; Bob Donohue of Oakland County, Michigan; Thom Guzman of Iowa, and I presented a session entitled "Main Street in the 21st Century." Our intent was to educate the traditional 'building' preservationist that Main Street is preservation too. The Main Street approach provides an tangible, economic context for historic preservation. The economic development work of Main Street creates an environment where preservation can, and will thrive, not the other way around. It's our job as Main Street leaders to foster that environment through advocacy, education, design review, technical assistance, and other innovative projects and activities.      

Claudia Plaza and Joyce Barrett admire the window displays in Franklin, Tenn., as part of the Main Street Coordinating Partners? tour during the 2009 National Preservation Conference.

Credit: Lauren Adkins

No coordinator's meeting would be complete without a tour of an exemplary local Main Street community. Franklin, Tennessee, provided the perfect destination. Franklin is a Great American Main Street Award winner and a National Trust Distinctive Dozen Destination. It's also home to numerous country music superstars. Unfortunately, we didn't see George Jones driving his riding lawn mower but we did see a great mix of shops and restored historic buildings. A big thanks to Kimberly Franklin Nyberg, coordinator of Tennessee Main Street for not just the tour but all the pre-conference arrangements that went into making our meetings a success.

See you in Oklahoma City for the 2010 National Main Streets Conference.

 If you missed the National Preservation Conference in Nashville, visit our Virtual Attendee page for a growing collection of takeaway items, along with live streams of selected sessions.