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Michigan Main Street Refresh Implementation: The Refresh from Our Communities’ Perspective


By Michigan Main Street Center | From Main Street Story of the Week | July 5, 2017 |

In our last article — Michigan Main Street Refresh Implementation: Our Process and Lessons Learned So Far — we introduced the process we developed to implement the refreshed Main Street Approach in Michigan Main Street communities, as well as the lessons we learned as the first state-wide coordinating program to roll out the new approach in all 21 of our participating communities.

We are still in the midst of taking our communities through our three-step Refresh Implementation Process and continue to see success in the way the refreshed Main Street Approach is being implemented in each of our communities. This success is validation that the process we have developed has been effective and will allow our communities to see outcomes and results relating to: elevating their focus to work in a strategic direction; leveraging all of their resources towards a common goal; engaging partner organizations and community stakeholders around a shared strategy for downtown; and measuring success to determine if they are moving the needle towards implementing their focused strategy.  

As we continue to work with our communities to implement the refreshed Main Street Approach, we feel it is important to share examples, lessons learned, and first-hand experience from our process and communities to help your program with successful implementation. That’s why we’re sharing  implementation from the perspective of three of our communities—Boyne City, Milan, and Niles. To allow for diverse perspectives of the refreshed Main Street Approach, we chose communities that vary in both their tenure with Michigan Main Street and sophistication in their Main Street Organization and downtown revitalization efforts. Here's a bit of background on each of the communities. Read on for the Refresh Implementation Q&A.

Boyne City Main Street

Downtown Boyne City (photo credit: © 2017 Michigan Barefoot Memories Photography)

Boyne City Main Street
is a Michigan Main Street Program veteran, participating in the program since 2003. Boyne City, an “up-north” Michigan community of 3,751 people, has a vibrant and economically successful downtown because of the work of Boyne City Main Street. Since 2003, the program has seen $25,701,376 worth of private investment in downtown Boyne City, has logged 44,195 volunteer hours, has brought in 76 new businesses, and has seen 30 façade rehabilitations completed in their downtown. Boyne City Main Street was one of the communities chosen in 2016 to pilot the implementation of the refreshed Main Street Approach. Since beginning in spring 2016, we have made significant progress in developing our process due to the lessons we learned in these original pilot communities. Boyne City Main Street has identified a transformation strategy of Outdoor Recreation and has gone through the strategy development process in which they defined this transformation strategy to make it more specific and meaningful and developed actionable goals and associated measures of success that can be expected if each of the goals is achieved. They will be going through the third and last step in our Refresh Implementation Process to align current and existing programming and activities with the goals and measures of success in the fall. 

Milan Main Street

Downtown Milan (photo credit: Milan Main Street)

Milan Main Street is brand new to the Michigan Main Street Program. The Southeastern Michigan City of Milan, population of 5,590, were welcomed to the program in February of 2016.  Since then, Milan Main Street has continued to build excitement and momentum for their community’s Main Street efforts and has made great strides towards developing as a strong organization that works to comprehensively revitalize Downtown Milan. Milan Main Street has identified a transformation strategy of Family-Friendly and Arts and Culture. Similar to Boyne City Main Street, Milan Main Street has also been through the strategy development process and will be going through the third and last step in the process this summer. 

Niles Main Street

Downtown Niles (photo credit: Niles Main Street)

Niles Main Street is also a Michigan Main Street Program veteran, participating in the program since 2004. Niles, located in Southwestern Michigan near the border of Michigan and Indiana, has a population of 11,502, and is surrounded by a wealth of community assets, including the historic Downtown and Dowagiac River. Since 2004, Niles Main Street has seen $10,129,564 worth of private investment in Downtown Niles, has logged 47,504 volunteer hours, has brought in 108 businesses, and has seen 97 façade rehabilitations completed in their downtown. Niles Main Street has identified a transformation strategy of a Restaurant/Food District and is the first community to go through all three steps in the Refresh Implementation Process. They have defined the transformation strategy, developed actionable goals and measures of success, and have aligned their programming and activities with the strategy, goals and measures of success. 

Each of the communities was asked to answer the following questions about the refreshed Main Street Approach and Michigan Main Street’s process for implementation. We hope their comments provide a useful outlook to your community as you consider implementing the refreshed Main Street Approach. 

Q 1: What about the new Main Street Approach and Refresh process is your Main Street Organization most excited about?

Boyne City: We are looking forward to having data to back up and report the impact of our organization. We feel that what we are doing is working and is building momentum, but the data will help us better tell our story and communicate our organization’s impact. Data is something new that we have not used to tell our story in the past. Our community is supportive of our efforts, but data will help back us up. (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Milan: I am most excited about the fact that it is bringing our committees to work together more closely on work plans rather than in silos. This has already proven incredibly effective. It has also reinvigorated our committee members while also proving respectful of their time. (Jill Tewsley, Executive Director)

We are early in the process, but we have had our first All-Committee Meeting and the excitement from attending a meeting of 20 excited volunteers rather than an individual committee meeting of two to six volunteers was a very positive experience. It has also been great to be in meetings with different mixes of individuals. Milan Main Street volunteers are getting to know each other better. (Dave Snyder, Milan Main Board member)

Niles: I love that it allows our volunteers to see the program and all of the work we do as a whole much more clearly than they saw when projects were committee based. It has been overwhelming, but in a good way to many involved to see the scope of our/their work and impact on our community as a program vs just as their committee project. (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 2: What challenges has your Main Street Organization faced in going through the Main Street Refresh Process?

Boyne City: The major challenge is just that the process is so new. We have had some questions throughout the process that there have not been answers to because of the nature of this process being a pilot program and our State being the first to implement the refresh. There have not been answers because the process has been under development.  (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Milan: I think one of the biggest challenges has been to get the committee chairs to forgo structured and regular meetings for a cross-committee process. It requires a bit of a loss of “control” but they are starting to understand the impact and learning how to work across the four points. (Jill Tewsley, Executive Director)

Niles: Change — change, even good change is challenging. (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 3: What changes/success has your Main Street Organization seen so far in going through the process of beginning to implement the new Main Street Approach?

Boyne City: The biggest thing is just continuing to make sure that we are always reaching for the next thing and keeping our momentum going. With our transformation strategy (Outdoor Recreation), we have been able to think of new programming that has not been done before. With the new proposed ideas, it helps to engage people and get people’s gears turning. This process has allowed us to begin thinking in a different way for our program to help make sure our programming and activities are fresh with new ideas. (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Milan: We recently implemented a new recurring monthly event, 3rd Thursdays. We were able to accomplish a significant amount of work outside of meetings. Way less conversation and way more work and integrations across all of the Four Points. It was exciting and fun. (Jill Tewsley, Executive Director)

Niles: More partnerships and interaction amongst current volunteers/committees, and I am having an easier time recruiting new volunteers, explaining what we do as projects with Four Point components vs Four Point committee-based projects. It just makes more sense this way.  (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 4: How has the Refresh and new Main Street Approach helped your Main Street Organization begin to focus your efforts?

Boyne City: It gets us thinking about our well-developed programming and activities in a different way, which helps keep them as engaging as possible so they don’t stay stagnant. We are thinking of our programming and activities in a different way to align with our transformation strategy. People really like and know our programs and activities but we want to make sure we keep introducing new things so they stay fun and exciting and continue to have an effect on the community. (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Milan: I think that before, all of the groups were working independently and didn’t really understand how work plans overlapped in both timing of execution and perhaps even specific tasks. The Refresh lets us look at work plans and tasks more collectively and make wiser decisions about implementation. It also allows us to utilize individuals across plans, making use of the talents and skills and interests, while not requiring them to attend multiple committee meetings and sub-committee meetings. People are having fun and getting things done. (Jill Tewsley, Executive Director)

Niles: By laying out all of our projects and having every one of them evaluated regarding how they help us achieve a common end goal, the board and volunteers can more clearly see why we are doing what we do.  (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 5: How do you think the Refresh and new Main Street Approach will help your Main Street Organization measure the impacts that you are having in your downtown district?

Boyne City: Our organization has never experimented with using data to back up what we are doing and to tell our story — this will be something new for us to try and will help us to measure the overall impacts we are having. (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Niles: Our organization will have a clearer vision and common goal for all the work we do making communication about what Main Street is and does easier and clearer. (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 6: How does your Main Street Organization plan to make partner organizations and community stakeholders aware of your efforts through the Refresh and new Main Street Approach?

Boyne City: This will first happen through our partners and stakeholders that are already involved. We will be making sure the line of communication to partners and people involved with our organization is open and they know the process the Board is going through with the Refresh. We talk about the process at different committee meetings and at partner organization’s meetings to keep them aware of the process the Board is going through and to keep the line of communication open. (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Niles: Conversation and communication...lots and lots of conversations to share our successes. (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 7: How do you plan to engage stakeholders to work with your organization through this process in order to implement your chosen transformation strategy(ies)?

Boyne City: This will happen naturally through the commitment people have to our organization. This is just the next thing we are bringing to them.  (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Milan: We are inviting them to participate in (for lack of a better term at the moment) “all-committee meetings” that are currently being held every other month. We are also way more visible in our community as a result of the Refresh because we are getting way more done — we are more visible.  (Jill Tewsley, Executive Director)

Niles: Quarterly joint meetings for all volunteers and board, as we transition from Four-Point committees to project teams and encourage all involved to become interactive with all Main Street projects. (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 8: Board Member-Specific: How has the Main Street Refresh and new Main Street Approach changed the way Board Members think about and understand the Main Street Approach? How has this process changed their perspective and/or perception of Main Street?

Boyne City: The Main Street Approach and Refresh makes the process more focused for goals and activities. (Don Ryde, Board Member)

We are just getting underway with the Main Street Refresh concept. In time, we will be better able to comment on its success. Initially, I do like the focus on the outcomes and “taking down the silos” between the committees. We are excited about the information the Market Study will bring to our community, and how we can apply it toward our continued community development. (Michelle Cortright, Board Chair)

Milan: The Main Street Refresh has significantly changed the way that we think about our work. I think that Board members take a more holistic approach to whatever we take on as an organization. Each of us, when we take on an organizational project, considers a broader range of issues. For instance, I am chairing an event late this summer. As our ad hoc event group plans, I know that I need to keep people involved in Organization (funding, volunteers), Promotions (events, image) and Economic Vitality (impact on and involvement of businesses) in the loop. Likewise, each of them may have resources that help with the success of our event.

I do think that this “Refresh” has the potential to create a very different Main Street with every member more involved in and aware of the possibilities of the organization. (Dave Snyder, Board Member)

Q 9: Board Member-Specific:  How do Board members see their role changing through the Refresh and new Main Street Approach? What do they see as their role in ensuring successful implementation of the transformation strategy(ies) they chose?

Boyne City: Results measure success, which is more productive when there, is focus and follow through for Main Street goals from the Board. (Don Ryde, Board Member)

Milan: I think that Refresh may allow Board members and other Milan Main Street volunteers the opportunity to be more involved in the activities that they are more passionate about. Each one of the four basic committees is a combination of activities, some of which appeal to an individual member and others which do not. A year ago, I would have been happy on any of the four committees except Promotions.  I AM, however, passionate about the theater.  I am heading up a Main Street theater event because it speaks to one of my core interests.

One thing that I can see is that those two transformational strategies that we have adopted have been used as justification for work that may produce less short-term income to the organization but has the potential for more long term change in the community. That is a good thing. (Dave Snyder, Board Member)

Q 10: Executive Director-Specific: How do you as a Director see your role changing through the Refresh and new Main Street Approach?

Boyne City: The Refresh will help me to carve out time to show the importance of telling our story. Instead of being so focused on moving from event to event or program to program, I will be able to stop and evaluate the outcomes of our programming and determine how we are showing our impacts to the community and to our stakeholders. (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Milan: Oh my gosh, this has already allowed me to spend less time in meetings and more time getting things done. In addition, the sub-committees are feeling more empowered and effective. I no longer have to lead every work plan and make sure that they are working across all Four Points. It is becoming second nature for the teams to do this. (Jill Tewsley, Executive Director)

Niles: I love the focus of a shared vision/goal that was chosen/developed with community input and validated as achievable by true market data. It gives me a clear story to tell to engage volunteers and current stakeholders as well as one to entice new volunteers and stakeholders.  (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

Q 11: Executive Director-Specific: What do you see as your role in helping the Board implement the transformation strategy(ies) they chose?

Boyne City: I see my role as being the line of communication between the Board and the National Main Street Center (NMSC) and the Michigan Main Street Program (MMS).  I am able to work with MMS and NMSC daily to understand the process and get questions answered. I can help translate the message between our coordinating program, MMS, and the Board. (Kelsie King-Duff, Executive Director)

Milan: I feel a bit like the gatekeeper of ALL of the information. I am able to communicate details and facts and knowledge that provide them with the information they need to make the best decisions for our community. (Jill Tewsley, Executive Director)

Niles: Good question. I think I would say I see my role as being the “mama” — not the one that  does it all, but to be a guide, resource and advocate (cheerleader) for the Board, volunteers, stakeholders and program as a whole to have us all be successful.  (Lisa Croteau, Executive Director)

The Michigan Main Street program exists to help communities develop main street districts that attract both residents and businesses, promote private commercial investment and spur economic growth. Michigan Main Street is a program of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and is led by Laura Krizov, Manager, and her team Leigh Young, AICP, Organization Specialist, Michelle Audette-Bauman, Economic Vitality Specialist, and Kelly Timmerman, Design Specialist.

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