Announcing the 2017 Great American Main Street Award Winners


The National Main Street Center, Inc. announced Renaissance Covington, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business Association, and West Chester Business Improvement District, as the three winners of the 2017 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) during its annual conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The awards were made possible through support from PNC Bank.

“The 2017 GAMSA winners showcase the realized potential of commercial district revitalization,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “Whether it’s attracting independent businesses, repurposing historic buildings or cultivating a thriving food scene, this year’s winners all understand the importance of growing communities that value historic preservation while supporting the changing shift in population and trends.”

Renaissance Covington, Ky.

Made up of 19 neighborhoods and commercial districts, Covington is situated south of the Ohio River and Cincinnati. The area features a casual mix of Midwestern strength and Southern charm and has developed a flourishing creative population. Brimming with beautiful Italianate brick buildings, the district has seen an influx of new independent businesses and insatiable demand for downtown residential units over the past few years.

“Downtown Covington’s resurgence has been a long time in the making,” said Katie Meyer, executive director, Renaissance Covington. “There are several critical partners who have contributed to the development’s success and this award reflects all the individuals’ and entities’ hard work.”

Established in 2003, Renaissance Covington has played a key role in spearheading efforts that integrate small business with creative public space projects to encourage civic engagement and Main Street revival. Since 2010, over 40 new businesses have opened in formerly vacant storefronts. Many storefront’s upper floors have also transitioned into urban lofts. Since 2003, vacancy rates have also dropped from 26 percent to five percent and the district has also added 790 jobs.

Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business Association, New Orleans, La.

Located in New Orleans, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard’s revival reflects the city’s resilience. Once a bustling Jewish and African-American corridor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and a hub for civil rights activism in the 1960s, the boulevard fell into decline in the 1970s. In 1995, the Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants & Business Association was established to help revive the area following interest in a local arts center and coffee shop. Since then, the association has helped reinvigorate the 12-block long commercial district into a robust community that not only celebrates New Orleans’ culture of jazz heritage and great cuisine, but also features renovated historic churches, schools and homes serving local residents.

“We are pleased that our collaborative efforts have helped transform the area from a majority of vacant structures to being mostly occupied,” said Linda Pompa, executive director, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard Merchants & Business Association. “Since 1995, we’ve reduced the vacancy rate from 48 percent to just 17 percent in 2016. Through key partnerships and collaboration with committed developers and neighborhood stakeholders, we've come a long way.”

The neighborhood within the city is steeped in social activism. The boulevard’s namesake Oretha Castle Haley played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement and helped organize the 1960 boycott of businesses refusing to hire Black sales clerks right on the boulevard. Post Hurricane Katrina, the community also rallied together to rebuild into a thriving cultural and commercial destination that was featured in The New York Times travel section in 2016.

West Chester Business Improvement District, Pa.

At just 1.8-square miles, West Chester is a lush green town that packs in a thriving food scene, a vibrant college population and 200 years of history. Nestled in the Brandywine Valley, the town has 4,200 structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including a collection designed by Thomas U. Walter, an American architect who is also one of the architects of the Capitol in Washington D.C.   

Since 2000, under the leadership of the West Chester Business Improvement District, the town has reduced the business vacancy rate from 22 percent to 4 percent, adding close to 250 new businesses and creating some 1,000 jobs for the area.

“It was a challenge to bring a new vitality to our downtown more than a decade ago so it’s especially rewarding to now gain recognition for our hard work,” said Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of West Chester BID. “The completion of the historic courthouse renovation and the opening of a new hotel and theater are just some visible signs of the area’s revitalization, but it truly was the partnership between local, regional and national organizations that helped West Chester flourish into a vibrant community.”

Growing together
When it comes to the hearts and souls of communities across America, Main Streets serve as a vital center of connection and revitalization. Together the 2017 GAMSA winners and semi-finalists have generated almost a billion dollars in public and private reinvestment, created 5,700 new jobs, opened 1,000 new business, rehabbed 1,400 buildings and clocked over 133,000 volunteer hours.

One to Watch

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

The National Main Street Center also selected Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation (DGDC) in Goldsboro, North Carolina, as the 2017 “One to Watch”— a place that is making great strides in using the Main Street Approach to revitalize their downtown. Downtown Goldsboro Development Corporation (DGDC) exemplifies the Main Street promise—transforming the once neglected and abandoned heart of the city into a thriving destination, beloved by residents and visitors alike. Downtown Goldsboro has leveraged resources and partnerships leading to almost $13 million in streetscape improvements, and has cultivated a dynamic local business environment.