September 20, 2022 | Announcing the 2023 Great American Main Street Award Semifinalists! |
The applications are in and the national jury of community development professionals has convened, deliberated, and selected the 2023 Great American Main Street Award Semifinalists! Join us in offering heartfelt congratulations to the eight Main Street America communities that are in the running for being recognized for their exemplary use of the Main Street Approach™ to transform their downtowns and neighborhood business districts.
Keep reading to learn more about each community and stay tuned to our social channels this week for daily Semifinalist shout outs! And make sure to save the date for the award ceremony on March 27 during the Opening Plenary of the 2023 Main Street Now conference
in Boston, Massachusetts.
Left: Awardees of River District Association’s signature program, Dream Launch. Right: RDA’s annual Christmas on the Plaza celebration in 2022. Courtesy: River District Association.
The River District Association is well known for its collaborative leadership and ethos of sharing successes. Through developing and maintaining strong partnerships with the City of Danville, the local regional foundation, SBDC, businesses, and other groups, the organization has created a fertile environment for economic vitality in their Main Street district. Initiatives to improve façades, develop regional entrepreneurship ecosystems, and match small business technical assistance with start-up funding are points of pride for the organization that have also resulted in a drastic increase of their commercial occupancy rate and welcoming more than 150 businesses downtown. The organization’s ambitious work plans also includes commitments to historic preservation of the district’s buildings, organizational capacity building, and projects to increase connections between the natural and built environment.
Left: Denison Arts Council’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration; courtesy: Mary Karam. Right: Community members gather for the dedication of the mural honoring Major Butler, who served as a Tuskegee Airmen during World War II; courtesy: Jewel Butler Jr..
Denison Main Street’s signature economic vitality programs offer examples of future-focused planning. Recognizing that the downtown area needed to take bold steps to manage unprecedented development interests and economic growth, they initiated Operation Increase Occupancy. Since 2011, this program has assembled a suite of tools designed to nurture the transformation to vibrancy while preserving retail spaces for local entrepreneurs. Window displays in vacant buildings, the establishment of an Entertainment District to support more outdoor entertainment venues, and incentives for destination eateries and beverage makers has created fertile ground for the community to reclaim downtown’s vacant spaces and transform them into vibrant places. Denison Main Street also credits their past successes and bright future to their partnerships with local history, heritage, and arts organizations that increase the program’s capacity to recruit and train volunteers, host cultural events downtown, and harness the transformative power of the arts and creative economy.
Left: The Dispensary is Downtown Florence's first rooftop entertainment facility, part of the Kress Corner's redevelopment project; courtesy: Downtown Florence Main Street. Right: Aroha AfroLatin Dance, a downtown minority-owned business, instructs a line dancing lesson at Florence After 5; courtesy: True Light Photography.
Downtown Florence’s district is the definition of small, but mighty: encompassing just eight blocks, visitors find a jewel box of exceptional local dining, award-winning entertainment venues, unique shopping, and architectural gems—from stately early 19th and early 20th century commercial buildings to Craftsman and Post War-ear residential neighborhoods. In the coming years over 150 units of new housing will add more residents to the mix. Similarly, Downtown Florence Main Street’s robust volunteer program is a powerhouse that engages hundreds of community members annually. Dedicated volunteers return every year to lead the production of major festivals with a commitment to excellent and iterative improvement. Meanwhile, various advisory committees provide insight into the needs and concerns of residents and small businesses, as well as increase opportunities for local creatives to install public art downtown and youth to access workforce development opportunities.
Left: Breakdancing on the Town Plaza, an event in Metuchen that brought a diverse crowd including performers from all five New York City Boroughs and throughout New Jersey in 2021 and again in 2022; courtesy: Richard Alfonzo Photography. Right: Main Street Bridge, with the words "Shop Small, Shop Local" since 2017; courtesy: Isaac Kremer.
From painting the words “Shop Small, Shop Local” on the railroad bridge that crosses over the town’s Main Street to using Small Business Saturday as a springboard for an entire month of promotional activities, Metuchen Downtown Alliance truly walks the walk when it comes to creating a culture of supporting small businesses. The organization hosted their first retail promotion activity in 2016 with Small Business Saturday deals and prizes. The success of this event spurred the organization to expand programming to include multi-cultural celebrations, holiday contests, a winter market, and themed promotional days to appeal to early bird and last-minute shoppers alike. Metuchen Downtown Alliance fosters good will and transformative placemaking activities year-round as well with quarterly member meetings, inclusive pop-up input sessions that encourage residents of all ages and backgrounds to envision enhancements to alleys and facades, and matching grant programs to assist merchants with improving their storefronts, accessing technology, and enhancing marketing efforts.
Left: Members of the ThinkLiveBe team getting ready to begin their volunteer project; courtesy: Mills 50 Main Street. Right: One of numerous murals that commemorate the Pulse tragedy, located on the side of LGBT+ Center Orlando (The Center) and painted by local artist Ric Sosa; courtesy: The Center.
Mills 50 Main Street is proof that art has the power to transform communities. Known as the "artsy district," Mills 50 Main Street is home to over 30 murals, 29 "art boxes," 15 "art dumpsters," and more than 20 "art drains." Reflecting the intersection of two major thoroughfares that inspire their name, the organization is also known for embracing creativity and culture. They partner with local AAPI organizations like the Asian American Chamber of Commerce and Amerasian Bank to produce the award-winning Central Florida Dragon Parade, and LGBT+ Center Orlando for Pride Month festivities. Since they launched in 2008, they have partnered with city departments and others to support a vibrant small business ecosystem in their urban district, bringing the vacancy rate from 40% to 3%.
Left: Interactive mural incorporating large braille text that spells out “Ruston”; courtesy @downtownruston. Right: People enjoying Railroad Park; courtesy: @mcintyre-La Tech.
Ruston Main Street is the heart, soul, and economic engine of this Louisiana college town. With the district also being home to the Louisiana School for the Blind, Ruston Main Street, in partnership with local leaders, put accessible infrastructure at the core of its transformation strategy, burying power lines, installing uniform curbs, and leveling sidewalks to create a safe, walkable downtown. Annual events like the Louisiana Peach Festival, Juneteenth celebration, and farmers’ market preserve and celebrate local heritage and support the local economy. From the centrally located Railroad Park and the Rock Island Greenway corridor connecting downtown to Louisiana Tech University, to unique businesses, vibrant restaurants, and innovative third spaces like Heard Freight House Food Truck Park, this district is welcoming to every resident, student, and visitor.
Left: Artist Micah Trampe doing a quick draw at "Art Alley" during 3rd Thursday Street Festival; courtesy: Sheridan Travel and Tourism. Right: Volunteers helped transplant and hang over 225 flower baskets on the historic street lamps on Main Street; courtesy: Downtown Sheridan Association.
Sheridan’s Main Street is the perfect combination of modern hospitality, western charm, historic architecture, and natural beauty. They have worked hard to bring businesses back to the district, using design upgrades and business outreach to reduce the vacancy rate by half. Through a unique partnership with the Sheridan College Horticulture program, Downtown Sheridan Association organizes 30-50 volunteers who assist with planting and hanging 225 streetlamp flower baskets in the spring and taking them down in the fall, a beloved annual activity that builds community while creating a welcoming downtown for residents and visitors alike. Downtown Sheridan Association also works with partners to host the annual First People’s Pow Wow, a one-of-a-kind event that is unique in its participation and pageantry, featuring Native American dancers and drummers in full regalia, performing traditional ceremonial dances.
Left: Sykesville 4th of July parade; courtesy: Carroll County Times. Right: Participants from Barrier-Free rooting for women rights activists at the 4th a July parade; courtesy: Celim Chavez.
Named the “Coolest Small Town in America” by Budget Travel in 2016, downtown Sykesville is a place where traditional historic charm meets future-focused modern amenities. Their district features streets lined with restored storefronts and electric car chargers, historic sites and vibrant public art displays, and unique all-local culinary experiences inspired by the Patapsco River and railroad industry. Robust business support services, including trend forecasting, educational workshops, social media tools, and merchandising, have helped bring their vacancy rate down to zero. Downtown Sykesville Connection’s robust committees and volunteer programs engage community members in events and activities, and have invested over 34,000 hours of service into downtown since 2011. The Green Committee, for example, brings together residents of all ages, neurodiversities, and experiences to maintain community gardens, renovate parks, and lead litter-free campaigns.
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