Main Street America is proud to recognize River District Association in Danville, Virginia; Downtown Florence Main Street in Florence, South Carolina; and Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA) in Metuchen, New Jersey, as the 2023 Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) winners. This prestigious award is the nation’s top award recognizing communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. The 2023 GAMSA designations, sponsored by The Hartford, were presented on March 27, 2023, at the opening plenary for the Main Street Now conference in Boston, Massachusetts.
“Danville, Florence, and Metuchen demonstrate that our collaborative, grassroots approach to commercial district revitalization is a powerful tool for uplifting communities,” said Main Street America Interim President and CEO, Hannah White. “Each organization’s story and work are unique, however the 2023 GAMSA winners all demonstrate excellence in creating welcoming downtowns through representative leadership, innovative programming, and inclusive economic development.”
River District Association – Danville, Virginia
Two women enjoy an outing with Danville's public bikes through the HOME sign pocket park on Main Street in the River District. Credit: Laura Ashworth.
Danville’s downtown is well known for its rich manufacturing heritage, which built large brick facilities along the town’s eponymous waterway. As these industries shrank during 1980s-2000s, the downtown suffered economically. Revitalization work led by River District Association (RDA) began in 1999 with a mission to coordinate efforts with the city agencies. Since 2011, strategically designed action plans rooted in exceptionally strong collaborative leadership based on the principles of the Main Street Approach and public-private partnerships supported sustainable economic initiatives, multifunctional promotional activities, and property development.
The results: Danville’s vision of a vibrant downtown is coming to fruition. Since 2010, RDA has leveraged $52 million in public investment to attract $310 million in private investment to facilitate the creation of more than 150 businesses and the addition of over 1,200 residential spaces. Notable successes include the organization’s signature Dream Launch entrepreneurship series that has provided free start-up training to over 465 participants and has distributed $375,000 in grants; a façade improvement program that has provided nearly 40 property owners and tenants with in-kind professional services, grants, and technical assistance; and raising the trustworthiness and reputation of the organization.
Now, the downtown is not only rebounding, but thriving as an attractive place for residents and visitors to remember the area’s history while contributing to a vibrant future for all.
Downtown Florence Main Street – Florence, South Carolina
Aroha AfroLatin Dance, a downtown minority-owned business, leads line dancing at Florence After 5. Credit: True Light Photography.
For decades, downtown Florence suffered from a negative public perception fueled by empty storefronts, racial divides, and a practice of demolishing neglected—yet culturally significant—buildings in favor of new construction. Then in 2002, the City of Florence and the Florence Downtown Development Corp., combined efforts to form Downtown Florence Main Street and adopted the Main Street Approach to downtown revitalization. Through community-informed economic development, historic preservation, and quality of life initiatives that leverage dedicated volunteers and partnerships with diverse stakeholders, downtown Florence is experiencing a renaissance.
Signature outcomes include reversing the status quo of razing historic buildings in favor for new construction. To date, eight buildings have benefitted from historic tax credits, 56 buildings have utilized the organization’s façade grant program, and 11 structures have leveraged historic building maintenance grants. Additionally, the district has secured $300 million in investment, added over 100 units of new housing, and welcomed over 90 new businesses. Catalytic projects include the development of the City Center Market and Kitchen—a municipal-owned commercial kitchen and market facility that supports over 20 food-based entrepreneurs and 40+ farmers market vendors—and ongoing efforts to bridge both physical and metaphorical divides through inclusive leadership, meaningful conversation, and intentional action.
Today, downtown Florence is once again a shining jewel where locals and visitors find exceptional local dining, award-winning entertainment venues, vibrant public art, and buildings rich in architectural heritage.
Metuchen Downtown Alliance – Metuchen, New Jersey
Metuchen's Main Street bridge encourages residents and visitors to "Shop Small, Shop Local." Credit: Lauren Beischer.
Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA) was formed in 2016 in response to the community’s concerns related to the area’s high commercial vacancy rate, low business retention, and poor appearance. Driven by objectives to create a welcoming, walkable, and inclusive downtown through innovative and family-friendly programming—and equipped with support from local elected officials, community members, Main Street New Jersey, and the Main Street Approach—the alliance has achieved remarkable success in just six years.
Notable accomplishments include establishing “Shop Local” as a core part of the community’s identity through hosting over 100 retail promotions activities. The organization also serves a critical role in nurturing small business creation, preservation, and growth. To date, 60 businesses have benefitted from façade, technology, and marketing grants. An additional 144 businesses—including 19 new restaurants, cafés, and bakeries—have opened and the commercial vacancy rate has dropped from 22% to 4%. MDA leadership is also proud of their efforts to nurture economic growth and community connections through their support of downtown housing projects and their commitment to hosting inclusive activation activities through iterative placemaking projects, public art installations, and community events that reflect the rich and diverse identities of Metuchen’s residents.
Once called the "Brainy Borough" for being home to innovators, scientists, and creatives, downtown Metuchen is reimagining this moniker for the residents, entrepreneurs, and artists of today and beyond.