Reflecting on Fiscal Year 2019 and the Road Ahead in 2020

July 17, 2019 | Reflecting on Fiscal Year 2019 and the Road Ahead in 2020 | By Patrice Frey, President and CEO, National Main Street Center |

Dear Main Street Colleagues,

Last week, I had the privilege of going on my annual Main Street road trip, a journey that has become somewhat of a tradition for me since I joined the NMSC six years ago. As in previous years, my family tagged along - this year I was joined by my parents, my cousins from Nebraska, and my two Wallys - one little (age 3.5), and one big (husband).(Little Wally is available as a volunteer to water plants on Main Street – see photo.)

Together, we visited three Main Street communities in Wyoming: Thermopolis, Rawlins, and Laramie. As I have now come to expect in each Main Street community I visit, I was greeted by gracious folks in each place - Main Street directors, volunteers, business owners, and residents who could barely contain their pride for their Main Streets. And for good reason. These communities represent what makes our work so meaningful. They are towns that don’t get much attention in the national dialogue about the ‘renaissance of the city’ or the ‘resurgence of place.’ They are the kinds of communities that, on paper, have the deck stacked against them. But, in person they shine. The Main Street programs are leading efforts in these towns to reinvest in their historic buildings, support a new generation of Main Street entrepreneurs, attract visitors to enjoy their natural beauty, and engage residents in the whole process. 

Getting out into Main Street communities always gives me a renewed sense of the importance of our mission, and the work that our board and staff put in throughout the year to bring that mission to life. And, while it may be the middle of July - peak road trip season! - it’s also the beginning of a brand-new fiscal year for us at the NMSC. So, before we get too far into FY 2020, I want to take a moment and share with you, or remind you, of some of the great things we accomplished together in FY2019.

Last year marked the beginning of a new strategic plan for the organization through which we recommitted ourselves to our core work of bringing superior value to our network. We also outlined a plan for new areas of work to expand our reach to new audiences and markets and cement our role as the national champion for Main Streets through new research and thought leadership. And of course, we identified key organizational and fundraising priorities that give us the capacity and the means to do all that important work. Our activities this past year have positioned us to make significant progress on our strategic plan, and I’m proud to share some highlights with you: 

Looking back at the past year, the Main Street Now Conference in Seattle comes immediately to mind as one of our most significant accomplishments. (Re-live the Opening Plenary with this video.) Thanks to a stellar conference team, an outstanding range of speakers, enthusiastic attendees, and the great partnership of our co-hosts at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation and the Washington Main Street Program, I can confidently say Main Street Now 2019 really was our best yet. We hit our all-time conference attendance record with 1826 attendees, beat our fundraising goals, and delivered over 100 well-received education sessions, tours, and special events. Dallas 2020, here we come!
Washington Main Street Director Breanne Durham welcomes a record-breaking crowd to the 2019 Main Street Now Conference in Seattle, Wash. Photo credit: Otto Greule

And of course, the conference is always one of our primary venues for celebrating excellence on Main Street. This year, that included recognizing our 10 Great American Main Street semi-finalists and announcing this year’s big winners: Alberta Main Street (Portland, Ore.), Wausau River District (Wausau, Wisc.), and Wheeling Heritage (Wheeling, W.Va.). And, the celebrations didn’t end there. We also had the honor of recognizing the 2019 Main Street America Revitalization Professional (MSARP) recipients during their graduation ceremony at the Closing Plenary. 

Some of our eight MSARP recipients, and dozens of other Main Streeters, benefitted from new professional development opportunities available to them this year through a new partnership between the Main Street American Institute and the National Development Council. With support from the 1772 Foundation, we were able to offer two week-long immersive trainings on historic real estate finance. This training, combined with the suite of high-level professional development offered throughout the year through MSAI, is helping to build the capacity and knowledge base of Main Streeters across the network. 
Recipients of the Main Street America Revitalization Professional credential were honored at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference in Seattle, WA. Photo credit: Otto Greule
Recipients of the Main Street America Revitalization Professional credential were honored at the 2019 Main Street Now Conference. 
Photo credit: Otto Greule

When it comes to building the capacity of Main Streets, nothing compares to our tireless field services team, who had a banner year in FY2019. Traveling to nearly 200 communities, our team – Matt, Dionne, Norma, Kathy, and Lindsey – delivered trainings, webinars, workshops, engagement meetings, keynotes and specialized services to Main Streets and Coordinating Programs. In addition to our core offerings, our field services team also expanded work in critical new areas, including entrepreneurial ecosystems, small-scale production, inclusive business districts, and people-first design. 

Now in its second full year, our new UrbanMain program has also continued to grow in new and exciting ways. UrbanMain now has a digital home of its own and a newsletter (sign up!). And under Dionne Baux’s leadership, we have also expanded UrbanMain services to several new cities across the country, including two new districts in Chicago – South Shore and Morgan Park/Beverly Hills. With new partners in hand and trainings in the works, UrbanMain is on a strong path for growth in the new fiscal year.  
NMSC's Director of Urban Programs Dionne Baux takes a tour of Baltimore's Highlandtown Main Street with local small business owner Juan Nuñez during a Transformation Strategy Visit in June. Photo credit: Amanda Smit-Peters

Lastly, this year we kicked off an exciting research partnership with the Brookings Institution and Project for Public Spaces called the Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking, generously sponsored by the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Foundation.  The Bass Center aims to help local and regional leaders – especially those working in areas challenged by the demands of the modern economy – create and support economic districts through transformative placemaking efforts that help grow businesses and jobs and promote greater opportunity for people. The NMSC, and co-partner Project for Public Spaces, will be supporting Brookings in this work by contributing research and field work to:

  • Make the case for why place matters to people and economies;
  • Support the development and execution of model approaches to transformative and inclusive placemaking; and 
  • Facilitate systemic reforms and policies that support place-led growth. 

Our participation in the new Bass Center represents a significant new area of work for the organization and provides a platform for us to enhance our research and thought leadership capacity. 

These accomplishments and activities are just a sampling of the great work that we can be proud of this year. And, we have lots of exciting work on the horizon for FY2020 that I’m excited to share with the network. Thanks again for all you do. It’s an honor to work with such a great team and I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Best regards,