The 2017 Great American Main Street Award Semi-Finalists

2017 GAMSA Banner

This past week, we revealed the ten 2017 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) semi-finalists on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s one of our favorite weeks of the year—we get to highlight the incredible work of Main Street America AND experience the reactions together in real time. Congratulations, thanks, words of support—with more than a fair share of Likes, Loves and Wows—poured in each day.

“The Great American Main Street Award is the highest recognition given out by the National Main Street Center. Each year, we celebrate exceptional Main Street America organizations for their work in creating more economically, socially, and culturally vibrant commercial districts," said Patrice Frey, the Center’s President and CEO. “This year’s winners are truly at the forefront of commercial district revitalization. They are a testament to the power of the Main Street Approach, and the great potential of downtown districts in cities and towns across the country.”

And the praise is well deserved. Together, this year’s semi-finalists have generated almost a billion dollars in public and private reinvestment, while creating 5,679 new jobs, opening 1,085 new businesses, rehabbing 1,359 buildings and clocking over 133,000 volunteer hours.

We look forward to announcing the winners this May at the Main Street Now Conference in Pittsburgh. Thank you to PNC Bank for their generous sponsorship of the 2017 Great American Main Street Awards.

So without further delay, here are this year’s semi-finalists, listed in alphabetical order: Berlin, Md., Cedar Rapids, Ia., Chillicothe, Mo., Columbus, Ga., Covington, Ky., Goldsboro, N.C., Los Alamos, N.M., New Orleans, La., Wausau, Wis., and West Chester, Pa.

Berlin Main Street, Berlin, Maryland 

Year Founded: 2009 | Population: 4,500 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 10

At the Berlin Bathtub Races, local businesses and sponsors turn ordinary bathtubs into “rolling racetubs” to faceoff in friendly competition downtown. Photo: Natalee Dehart

Though our smallest semi-finalist community, Berlin Main Street has compiled some impressive stats in their 8-year history. Since 2008, they’ve seen to the creation of 255 jobs, and in 2015 alone clocked close to 2,400 volunteer hours. Berlin Main Street has also earned a number of accolades, including being named Southern Living’s “2016 South’s Best Small Town” and one of Esquire’s “Top 50 Coolest Small Towns in America.” No doubt Berlin’s Bathtub Races contribute to the cool factor. 

Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 

Year Founded: 2009 | Population: 129,383 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 40

The warm hospitality, regular programming and vast collection of Cedar Rapids memorabilia at Parlor City make it a crowd favorite in the district. Photo: Jessica Rilling

Once a haven for Czech and Bohemian immigrants, the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District was reborn as an arts and culture district following years of economic decline and a record flood that nearly destroyed the riverside neighborhoods. Since the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District started in 2009, the vacancy rate in this historic area of Cedar Rapids has been reduced by 87%.  In 2016, the community received a number of national accolades, including raking eighth on Livability’s “Best Affordable Place to Live” list, fifth on Money Under 30’s “Best City in America for Young Adults To Get Rich” list, and sixth on SmartAsset’s “Top 10 Cities For Tech Workers” list.

Main Street Chillicothe, Chillicothe, Missouri 

Year Founded: 2001 | Population: 9,504 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 16

People of all ages filled the streets downtown to celebrate the “Best Thing Since Sliced Bread” at Main Street Chillicothe’s Sliced Bread Saturday Street Fair & Heritage Festival. Photo: Main Street Chillicothe

As the birthplace of sliced bread, Chillicothe knows a thing or two about greatness. In just the last six years, Main Street Chillicothe has received an impressive 16 awards from their coordinating program, Missouri Main Street Connection, including the Creative Community award for their many collaborative partnerships. Founded in 2001, Main Street Chillicothe is credited with creating over 90 new jobs, while reducing the downtown vacancy rate by 83%. 

Uptown Columbus, Inc., Columbus, Georgia 

Year Founded: 1983 | Population: 202,000 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 15

The newly renovated Eagle & Phenix Mills boasts 88 condominiums and hundreds of new apartments. The project owners, W. C. Bradley Co., partnered with Historic Columbus to ensure historical integrity and maintain the buildings’ architectural significance, all while incorporating modern conveniences. Photo: Ken Rodriguez, Uptown Columbus

Located on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, Uptown Columbus includes both the central business district and the riverfront. In addition to beautiful historic architecture, abundant public art, a vibrant weekly market, and many shopping, dining, and entertainment options, Uptown Columbus boasts an urban whitewater rafting course. Since Uptown Columbus, Inc. become an official Main Street in 2009, they have seen over $74 million in capital investments along with the completion of 59 rehab projects and have increased downtown housing by 29%.

Renaissance Covington, Covington, Kentucky 

Year Founded: 2003 | Population: 40,997 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 15

A view down Madison Avenue in downtown Covington. Photo: Thomas DiBello

After being named a “One to Watch” in 2016, Renaissance Covington returns as semi-finalist again in 2017! Since their inception in 2003, Renaissance Covington has created 790 new jobs while seeing almost 150 new businesses open in the downtown district, which is also a Kentucky Arts Council Certified Creative District. While maintaining a strong commitment to the Main Street Approach, the organization has implemented creative, artsy and fun solutions to downtown revitalization challenges, including pop-up shops, a temporary “parklet” initiative and annual arts festival.

Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation, Goldsboro, North Carolina 

Year Founded: 1984 | Population: 35,947 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 22

Volunteers come together for Downtown Community Action Day, an event held twice a year on a Saturday to beautify downtown. Photo: DGDC

The Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation (DGDC) has followed the Main Street Approach since 1984, and during that time 650 buildings have been rehabbed and over 100 new businesses have opened. Though these are impressive stats, what really matters is the impact Main Street has had on the community. Andrew Jernigan, DGDC Board President, sums it up perfectly. “This past Christmas, at one of my favorite annual downtown events, called Lights Up Downtown, I was walking arm in arm with my 91-year-old grandfather through a crowd of thousands, as carolers, horse drawn trollies, and dozens of other Christmas entities went by us. My naysayer of a grandfather looked up to me, with a tear in his eye, and told me he had never seen that many people downtown, and he was wrong and incredibly proud of what we had accomplished.”

Los Alamos MainStreet, Los Alamos, New Mexico 

Year Founded: 1993 | Population: 18,000 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 47

ScienceFest features a weekend of interactive activities, competitions, speakers, tours, and exhibits, including a fashion show of upcycled garments. Photo: Skip Wecksung

Los Alamos MainStreet
is our second returning semi-finalist from last year’s “One to Watch” list. Once home to the Manhattan Project, Los Alamos MainStreet continues to build on the city’s reputation as a hub for innovation and invention. This couldn’t be more evident than in their signature promotion event, ScienceFest. In their 23-year history, Los Alamos MainStreet has generated over $140 million in public/private investment while accumulating approximately 24,000 volunteer hours.

Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Main Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 

Year Founded: 1995 | Population: 389,000 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 24

View of the crowd from the stage at Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard’s annual Central City Fest. Photo: Victor Robinson

Once a bustling district with over 200 businesses, this historically African-American and Jewish corridor in Central City New Orleans fell into disrepair. Fast forward to 2016—the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard corridor is once again booming with tourists and locals alike, garnering attention from variety of food and travel publications, including The New York Times travel column.  Since starting a Main Street program in 2006, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard has generated over $80 million in public/private investment with a reinvestment ratio of $1:$5.38 (public to private).  

Wausau River District, Wausau, Wisconsin 

Year Founded: 2002 | Population: 39,302 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 34

It’s easy to see why the Wausau River District’s annual Balloon & Rib Fest and Chalkfest is known locally as Wausau's Big Weekend. Photo: Elizabeth Field
Located in the heart of downtown, the Wausau River District is a year-round destination. Multiple arts initiatives, from crosswalk murals to ice sculpture competitions, and countless shopping, dining and entertainment offerings truly make the River District a great place to live, work and play. In its 14-year existence, the Wausau River District has received an impressive 13 awards from the Wisconsin Main Street Program. And speaking of numbers, the district boasts a Walk Score (walkability index) of 93. Thanks to their focus on downtown housing, 34 residential units have been added, with even more in the works. 

West Chester BID, West Chester, Pennsylvania 

Year Founded: 2000 | Population: 19,842 | Square Blocks in Commercial District: 22

Street festivals add vitality to downtown West Chester. Photo: West Chester BID

Our 10th and final semi-finalist, West Chester BID comes from the host state of our 2017 Main Street Now Conference—Pennsylvania! In their 16-year history, West Chester BID has generated over $270 million in public and private investment, while creating 241 new businesses. Accolades over the years include being named the Best New Shopping District by Philadelphia Magazine and winning a Distinctive Destination award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

We would once again like to thank everyone that applied this year. The winners will be announced on May 1, 2017, at the Opening Plenary of the Main Street Now Conference in Pittsburgh!