Letter from the President: Learning from Detroit


Dear Main Street Members,

With only a little over a week to go before the National Main Streets Conference in Detroit, we’re getting excited to share ideas, catch up and celebrate the great work that’s being done on Main Streets around the country. I’m particularly excited about this conference, and Detroit in particular, because of the can-do attitude and tremendous spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that can be felt and seen across the city.

As you know, the residents of Detroit have been through very tough times in the past few years—but throughout the city, there are examples of people coming together to save the places they care about. The do-it-yourself spirit of the community members who are revitalizing Detroit is the same spirit that motivates our Main Street network, and there are significant lessons that every attendee can take away from their time spent in the Motor City. The mobile workshops in particular offer great opportunities to learn about how community members have come together to revitalize their neighborhoods in creative ways.

One of those communities is the neighborhood of Grandmont-Rosedale, where vacancies reached 10 percent and home prices dropped as low as $30,000 during the recession. Neighbors banded together to form a community development corporation, and have been pooling their money to purchase vacant homes, remodel them, and sell them. They’re also revitalizing their local business district with a “co-working” space for small businesses and a business incubator program.

Another example is Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, which has seen major changes since a public-private partnership took over management from the city in 2006. The Eastern Market Corporation has revitalized two major facilities and is working on more renovations to a new plant and flower center, public plaza and community commercial kitchen. They’ve also created food-business incubator programs and new Tuesday and “after-hours” markets, and are working on a greenway and alternative energy projects as well. The 120-year-old market now brings more than 45,000 visitors on a typical market day, many of whom will spread out into the shops and restaurants of the neighborhood or make their way to Detroit’s RiverWalk via the Dequindre Cut, a mile-long pedestrian path built on an old railroad line.

Beyond the inspiration and ideas to be found in the city of Detroit, this conference also offers some fantastic opportunities to learn about cutting-edge techniques you can use back home to revitalize your neighborhoods. Experts from two innovative new platforms, Fundrise and ioby, will be on hand to talk about how crowdfunding can help you raise money for local development projects from community members who want to invest in their neighborhoods. We’re also offering an intensive workshop on America Saves!, a three-year initiative led by the Preservation Green Lab of the National Trust, which will help Main Streets save money through energy efficiency. And we’re running a crash course on how to create a successful private partnership — a fundamental principle of the Main Street approach that is even more important today, when public dollars are harder to come by.

While there are so many things for Main Street members to learn in Detroit, I believe this conference also offers an opportunity for two-way learning. I estimate that our Main Street members have about 5,000 years of collective professional wisdom. As experts on downtown revitalization, no one knows better than Main Street professionals what it takes to transform a downtown, using the conservation of historic buildings to not just protect our heritage, but to truly strengthen our communities. This makes you not just a valuable resource in your communities, but also an essential voice in the nationwide discussion about downtown revitalization – including the comeback of Detroit. 

While we’re in Detroit, I hope this conference sparks informal conversations between Main Street veterans and the business-owners, local officials and volunteers who are working to rebuild the city. There is a very special opportunity to start a back-and-forth dialogue between those who are working toward neighborhood revitalization in Detroit and those who are doing the same thing within our Main Street network. I hope those conversations generate positive change both in Detroit and in Main Street communities all throughout the country.

I look forward to seeing you all very soon in Detroit.

Warm regards,

Patrice Frey