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UrbanMain at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference

April 16, 2019 | UrbanMain at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference |

Two years after the UrbanMain Network launched in Seattle, neighborhood commercial district revitalization practitioners returned to the Emerald City for the 2019 Main Street Now Conference from March 25 - 27. The conference featured a stellar lineup of sessions geared toward urban revitalization professionals, including eight education sessions in the UrbanMain track, as well as general sessions and plenaries that highlighted issues pertinent to urban commercial districts.  Each session offered a variety of helpful tips and resources, but a few key takeaways emerged that are relevant to communities large and small:

1. Get Creative in Your Partnerships with Anchor Institutions


Conference attendees visited Occidental Park in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. The Park serves as a starting point for the “March to the Match.” Credit: Jenna Temkin

Throughout the conference, session speakers highlighted the potential of anchor institutions to incubate small businesses, direct purchasing power toward new vendors, leverage real estate development, and generate jobs. In a session on Anchor Institutions and Neighborhood Districts, panelists from Charlotte, Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit shared examples of how they have successfully partnered with anchors, including hospitals, libraries, and universities. Director of Baltimore Main Streets Verna Jones-Rodwell highlighted a partnership with the University of Baltimore on a Community Development Fellows program, where students had paid internships at community economic development organizations to build the next generation of revitalization professionals in Baltimore.

Conference attendees got to see the power of anchors in action at People to People: Learning How to be Neighbors in an Urban District, a mobile tour of Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood. Tour participants visited Occidental Park, which serves as the starting point for the “March to Match,” a rally and march of Seattle Sounders fans to CenturyLink Field, located just three blocks away. The mobile tour also visited THE NINETY, a gathering space for Sounders fans and a venue for Pioneer Square community events. The Sounders convene local businesses and neighbors there once per quarter to review the stadium’s events calendar, so everyone can prepare for increases in street and business traffic.

2. Leverage What Makes Your District Unique


National Main Street Center’s Director of Urban Programs Dionne Baux presents an overview of the UrbanMain Approach at a session on lessons learned from a year of implementing UrbanMain programs in Chicago. Credit: Jenna Temkin

In a General Session on Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, Entrepreneurship on Main Street: Making the Case for Place, panelists spoke about harnessing a community’s physical and environmental characteristics to foster a healthy small business base. Maiko Winkler-Chen, Executive Director of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority, focused on how the historically Chinese-American community she works with has conserved and developed unique cultural and ethnic small businesses. These businesses include traditional storefronts, like Chinese grocery stores, along with newer businesses, like a barber shop, dance studio, and Filipino bakery.

NMSC’s Director of Urban Programs Dionne Baux built on the idea of leveraging a community’ unique characteristics during Chicago UrbanMain: Lessons Learned in Implementation. For example, the 51st Street Business Association created the Bronzeville Jazz Music Festival to draw on the area’s history as a hub for jazz music during The Great Migration. Chicago UrbanMain communities also leveraged unique local partnerships during its first year. A Chicago nonprofit that mobilizes volunteers, Chicago Cares, recruited volunteers to plant flowers in Bronzeville, and Groupon, a program funder headquartered in Chicago, provided technical assistance to build a website for the 51st Street Business Association.

3. Get to Know Your Elected Officials, Developers, and Investors


Anthony Veerkamp of the National Trust for Historic Preservation listens on as Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold talks about preserving legacy businesses in Seattle. Credit: Jenna Temkin

In a packed session on Opportunity Zones, The Land of OZ: Pulling Back the Curtain on Opportunity Zones, President & CEO of Opportunity Alabama Alex Flachsbart emphasized developing strategic partnerships with developers, business owners, and investors to use Opportunity Zones to their full potential. He encouraged communities to develop a local marketing strategy to engage new partners and spark investment.

Conference speakers continued to highlight the importance of relationship-building, this time with elected officials, in a session on Promoting and Preserving Legacy Businesses. Anthony Veerkamp, Director of Policy Development at the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Lisa Herbold, a Seattle City Councilmember, provided an overview of legacy business preservation initiatives in San Francisco, San Antonio, and Seattle. In San Francisco, the passage of a special ballot measure created a Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund, which provides grants to businesses that receive a legacy designation and incentives for landlords who own legacy business properties. After hearing about San Francisco’s program, Councilmember Herbold got city funding to study creating a similar program in Seattle.

UrbanMain has come a long way since 2017, and next year’s conference is sure to provide even more relevant content you can apply to your urban commercial district. Mark your calendar for the next Main Street Now Conference from May 18 – 20, 2020 in Dallas, Texas!

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