2014 Great American Main Street Award Semifinalists

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The time has finally arrived to announce the 2014 Great American Main Street Award semifinalists! Over the past several weeks, the seven member jury comprised of nationally recognized Main Street specialists had the difficult task of determining which of the twenty applicants would advance to the next round. This was a competitive year not only in terms of the quantity of applicants (the most in five years!) but the quality of applications. “We are thrilled by the impressive results that the Main Street Four-Point Approach continues to generate,” said Carolyn Dellutri, Senior Director of Programs and Services, “This year’s semifinalists prove once again the transformative power of Main Street - a movement that has spanned over three decades and has spurred close to $60 billion in reinvestment.”

So without further delay, this year’s ten semifinalists listed in alphabetical order are:

Beaufort, South Carolina

Year Founded: 1985 | Population: 12,361 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 148

Historic buildings line Bay Street in downtown Beaufort. (c) Captured Moments Photography

Since its inception in 1985, Main Street Beaufort, USA has leveraged over $33 million in public investment and over $56 million in private investment. Back in 1989, this would have seemed unlikely - in that year alone, Beaufort survived a multitude of setbacks including Hurricane Hugo, its first snowfall in twenty years on the busiest shopping day of the year, and the opening of a 90,000 square-foot Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town. It’s hard to imagine a community of this size surviving these events, let alone adding twelve new businesses in the same year, but that’s exactly what happened. Today downtown Beaufort is stronger than ever – it not only has businesses that are attractive to visitors, but businesses that are useful for the local economy as well. With a highly walkable downtown, a waterfront park, schools, a grocery store, a public boat landing, government offices, restaurants, entertainment, and services, downtown Beaufort has become ‘the’ place to live for all generations. 

Bedford, Pennsylvania

Year Founded: 2002 | Population: 2,838 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 4

Residents, business owners, community members and visitors enjoy Hot Summer Nights in downtown Bedford. (c) Downtown Bedford, Inc.

Bedford has long been a destination for people passing through Pennsylvania. From its beginnings as a stop on the Forbes Trail in the 1800s to its modern reputation as a dynamic, must-visit town along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Bedford, Pennsylvania is not to be missed. Bedford’s Main Street Program, Downtown Bedford Inc., has been instrumental in promoting downtown revitalization. In recent years, it has established a façade program, completed streetscape updates, and developed a website and app for downtown. Downtown Bedford Inc.’s new Vision Statement for the town will ensure its future economic success, focusing on second floor mixed use solutions, and a revolving loan fund and small business incubator to nurture new businesses.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Year Founded: 1984 | Population: 7,650 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 17

Gettysburg's semi-annual antique show draws residents and visitors downtown. (c) Gettsburg Convention Bureau

For American history buffs and Civil War enthusiasts, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania needs no introduction. The historic battlefield and the famed Gettysburg address attract millions of visitors annually to the town. Despite its solid reputation as a world-class tourist attraction, Main Street Gettysburg has faced many challenges that will be familiar to Main Streets across America. Former Borough Councilman John Murphy said that back in 1990, “The Gettysburg Hotel was lying gutted by fire in the center of town.  The historic Wills House was shuttered up and locked. Lincoln Square looked like an area that had just come through the Great Depression with many open storefronts.  It was depressing.”  Anyone who visits Gettysburg today would have a difficult time envisioning this.  With a strong ten-year revitalization strategy in place and a thriving Business Improvement District, Main Street Gettysburg has paved the way for the future of the town, making it a great place to visit, play, and set down roots.

Grand Haven, Michigan

Year Founded: 2005 | Population: 10,412 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 6

Grand Haven's Main Street offers retail and restaurant choices for all tastes. (c) Grand Haven Main Street DDA

Since its founding in 2005, the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority has seen over $25 million in private sector investment and over $28 million in public sector investment – a remarkable feat, given the recession that hit Michigan and the rest of the nation in 2008. Take a stroll through scenic downtown Grand Haven today you will see 100% occupancy in storefronts filled with delicious eateries, one-of-a-kind boutiques, entrepreneurial businesses, and quaint bed and breakfasts. The Main Street model has fueled this amazing transformation and rallied community members together – helping to create a thriving, modern commercial district in a historic setting.

Harrisonburg, Virginia

Year Founded: 2003 | Population: 48,914 | Square Blocks in Commercial District:  40

Cycling event in downtown Harrisonburg. (c) Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance

Nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, downtown Harrisonburg is a dramatically different place today than it was a decade ago – and much of that transformation can be attributed to Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance’s impressive work in the community. For the last four years, readers of the local newspaper have named Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance “The Best Use of Taxpayer Money.”  The reason is clear: in their 11 year history, HDR has logged over 85,000 volunteer hours while generating $55 million in private investment and they have no plans of slowing down. In coming years, watch out for a new hotel and conference center, an urban park, and an updated brand for the organization. As local developer Barry Kelly stated, “The heart of our city is beating vibrantly again.”    

Middlesborough, Kentucky

Year Founded: 2006 | Population: 10,334 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 40

Enjoying live music and entertainment in downtown Middlesborough during the annual Ducky Dash. (c) Discover Downtown Middlesboro, Inc.

Boasting a wildly popular Cumberland Mountain Fall Festival, a wacky Ducky Dash race, and a grooving Dancing in the Street event, Middlesborough, Kentucky knows how to have a good time. But this lively town has not had it easy. Devastated by the loss of the coal industry, the local Main Street Program Discover Downtown Middlesboro, Inc. has worked tirelessly to re-energize the downtown with new business and job creation in an area where unemployment rates hit double figures. In the last year alone, 13 new businesses opened, 100 new jobs were added, and membership, sponsorship, and fundraising programs are at record levels.  Future goals include continued restoration of historic buildings and creating a trail system to connect the downtown with the Cumberland Gap National Park.

Milledgeville, Georgia

Year Founded: 1988 | Population: 19,401 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 8

Preservation sensitive rehabs, streetscapes and banner programs make downtown Milledgeville vibrant. (c) Donna Collins

In the early 1990s, the future of downtown Milledgeville, Georgia was uncertain. Strip malls were popping up on the outskirts of town, businesses were shuttered, and unemployment was on the rise. Visit this dynamic town today and you will see firsthand how the Main Street approach can turn a town around. Over the last 10 years, Milledgeville Main Street has seen over $66 million in public and private investment, helped 63 new businesses open their doors, and created 306 new jobs. With a growing population, over 10 blocks of beautifully restored Antebellum homes, and new mixed-use development popping up, downtown Milledgeville is on the rise.

Pontiac, Illinois

Year Founded: 1988 | Population: 12,000 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 26

A car show sponsored by the Pontiac Oakland Auto Museum in downtown Pontiac. (c) Robert Roarty
Pontiac, Illinois attracts visitors and residents alike with its dynamic arts scene, impressive museums, historic sites, and beautiful courthouse square. Serving downtown for over 26 years, Pontiac Redeveloping Our United Downtown (P.R.O.U.D.), has been instrumental in dramatically reducing the vacancy rate (from 14.5% to 1%!), increasing tourism, helping to open four new museums, and fueling job growth. And best of all, P.R.O.U.D shows no signs of slowing down. They are currently working with the city to create an incentive program for upper story restorations in an effort to get more residents living downtown and are looking to update their Vision & Strategic Plan in the near future.  P.R.O.U.D  is a true Main Street success story: Illinois Main Street Coordinator Christina Rogers stated that any community that is looking to start a Main Street proram must visit Pontiac.

Rawlins, Wyoming

Year Founded: 2006 | Population: 9,259 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 18

Residents gather to help welcome the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree in 2010. (c) Saratoga Sun

Since 2006, Rawlins DDA/Main Street has been building momentum for the small town and the results are truly impressive. Putting the Four-Point Approach to work, Rawlins DDA attracts a volunteer base of over 100 people, hosts annual fundraising events, conducts impressive streetscape overhauls, and has opened an Entrepreneur Center, all helping to establish downtown Rawlins as a must-see business district. Since Rawlins DDA adopted the Main Street approach in 2006, the downtown building vacancy rate has dropped from 45% to under 10%, 55 rehabilitation projects have been completed, 25 new businesses started, and over 25,000 volunteer hours tracked.

Woodbine, Iowa

Year Founded: 2008 | Population: 1,459 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 6

Celebrating the completion of a 25 building facade project, locals recreate a 1913 Chautaqua parade. (c) Bracinda Blum

“…a slice of Americana on the historic Lincoln Highway," Woodbine, Iowa exemplifies small-town Iowa: brick streets, big grain bins, an apple festival, restored canopy gas stations, no stop lights, fresh eggs at the local hardware store, and a friendly Main Street district. Woodbine joined the Main Street Iowa program in 2008 and has generated over $8M in reinvestment in just six years, giving this quaint town a promising future. With Main Street challenge grants and CDBG Revitalization funding, they are tackling the barrier of crumbling infrastructure, spurring new downtown rehab projects, and creating more “play space” downtown. From art studios to martial arts, from antique shops to microbreweries, Woodbine is a great place for residents and visitors alike.

We would once again like to thank everyone that applied this year. Be sure not to miss the announcement of the winners at the Opening Plenary of the 2014 National Main Streets Conference in Detroit on May 18!