2016 Great American Main Street Award Winners


Audubon Park in Orlando, Fla., Dahlonega, Ga., and Shaw District in Washington, D.C. were chosen as 2016 Great American Main Street Awards® (GAMSA) winners. The awards were presented at the 2016 Main Street Now Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“The 2016 GAMSA winners have succeeded in making their towns an exciting place to live, work, play and visit through implementing our historic preservation-based methodology for downtown revitalization,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “In each locality, the local Main Street organization has collaborated with residents, business owners and other local partners to revitalize their district by promoting the assets that makes that community special.”

The 2016 winners are a diverse group in geography and character, but together demonstrate the broad applicability of the Main Street Approach:

Audubon Park Garden District, Orlando, Fla.

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Developed post-World War II, Audubon Park was long defined by a wide, four-lane commercial main drag dotted with suburban strip malls. Under Audubon Park Garden District’s leadership, that corridor is now flourishing with small businesses, pollinator gardens and events that stand in stark contrast to bland suburban sprawl. With the Main Street Approach as its guide, Audubon Park Garden District has emerged as a hip place to be. The redevelopment of a foreclosed church into a nationally recognized food and culture hub, a thriving shopping and dining scene and a retro modern home tour are just a few of the attractions that make this neighborhood one of America’s best.

Left: East End Market donates space to the Main Street organization’s classes and workshops, including this book reading. Right: The Audubon Park Garden District is Orlando’s first EcoDistrict program. As part of this effort, they are partnering with Fleet Farms, a pedal powered organic urban farmlette program.

“Audubon Park is to be commended for reinventing itself as the home of several destination-worthy small businesses and the epicenter of Orlando’s good food movement, while also pioneering green practices for businesses and commercial districts,” says Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “APGD’s skill in providing low-cost, high-touch support to its small businesses has paid huge dividends, driving retail vacancy rates to just 2 percent. They should take great pride in creating such an inviting place for people to live, shop, and open businesses.”

Other hallmarks of Audubon Park Garden District’s success include the creation of 521 new jobs since 2009, the rehabilitation of two abandoned buildings into showpieces, and the district’s efforts to secure $3.5 million in private investment. The $3 million East End Market project to create Orlando’s only urban market brought twenty new businesses and over 100 new jobs to the area.

For more information about Audubon Park Garden District, visit www.audubonparkgardens.com.

Dahlonega Main Street, Dahlonega, Georgia

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With a charming and walkable downtown, first-rate restaurants, and unique shops featuring the best of Southern Appalachian hospitality, downtown Dahlonega is a top destination in the Southeastern United States. Located just 65 miles north of Atlanta and the site of the first U.S. Gold Rush, more than a million visitors travel to Dahlonega (pop. 6,000) every year. With the Main Street Approach as its guide, Dahlonega Main Street uses a combination of tools, including preservation grants, design guidelines and promotion strategies to preserve downtown Dahlonega’s strong sense of place while also expanding economic development opportunities.

Left: In October and November, downtown's green landscape transforms into an array of bright yellows and reds. Middle: The fast paced Dahlonega Six Gap Criterium is a great opportunity for cycling enthusiasts and spectators to enjoy the sport in the historic downtown atmosphere. Right: With Main Street matching grants, a building owner transformed an underutilized, partially vacant building into a profitable mixed use center containing five thriving businesses.

“Downtown Dahlonega is a sparkling example of how careful planning, small business support and historic preservation can combine to create a thriving downtown,” says Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “Its downtown district, art galleries, restored theater and courthouse stand out in North Georgia, making Dahlonega a truly distinctive shopping and dining destination and a charming place to call home.”

“Dahlonega’s economic success has been built upon our precious historic architecture and resources,” says Dahlonega mayor Gary McCullough. “Local leaders, partners and stakeholders continue to plan and work diligently to preserve and promote our historic village as an economic center of North Georgia.”

In its 15 years of operation, Dahlonega Main Street distinguished itself as a vital downtown partner in several ways. When a fire devastated several businesses in 2014, the organization led the effort to assess the damage, create an action plan and relocate displaced businesses and 40 employees. In partnership with the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce, local and state government agencies, and the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega Main Street has facilitated 180 building rehabilitations, 108 new business openings and a reduction in retail vacancy rates from 20 percent in 2000 to 2 percent today.

For more information about Dahlonega Main Street, visit www.dahlonegadda.org.

Shaw Main Streets, Washington, D.C.

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By actively involving its multicultural community, cultivating tech businesses, and supporting the arts, since its founding in 2003 Shaw Main Streets has reduced the retail vacancy rate from 20 percent to 1 percent, helped over 200 new businesses open, and attracted approximately $3 billion in private and public investment. Under Shaw Main Streets’ leadership, Shaw has earned nationwide attention as a fast-rising arts, cultural and dining destination while maintaining affordability and ties to its proud past as an African-American entertainment district.

Public art celebrating the contributions of notable African Americans who lived in Shaw, like “Duke” Ellington, now promote the neighborhood’s rick Black history. 1970s high rise apartment buildings have been renovated and remain affordable housing for low and moderate income families. Photos by Alexander M. Padro, Courtesy Shaw Main Streets.

“Shaw’s transformation in the last 13 years has been truly remarkable,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO of the National Main Street Center. “To bring the neighborhood back from the devastating 1968 riots and the decades of disinvestment that followed while infusing the district’s historic character with new energy and resources, is a tremendous testament to Shaw Main Street’s effective leadership.”

“I’m proud that the District of the Columbia is the first urban Main Street program to include three Great American Main Street Award winners,” said Muriel E. Bowser, mayor of the District of Columbia. “As a fifth generation Washingtonian, I have witnessed the Shaw neighborhood’s growth and progress – of which Shaw Main Streets has played an important role. Shaw is one of our treasured communities, with a rich cultural history that reflects the diversity and vibrancy of Washington, DC. I congratulate Shaw Main Streets' board of directors, including Chair Gretchen Wharton, executive director Alexander Padro, and hundreds of local volunteers for a job well done.”

Highlights of Shaw Main Street’s 13-year efforts include the rehabilitation of the Howard Theatre, once the largest venue in Washington’s segregation-era “Black Broadway,” the creation of flexible work space for 400 start-up tech businesses in a former Wonder Bread factory, maintenance of the district’s affordable housing, and the creation of a popular overnight arts festival that won an Innovation on Main Street Award in 2015.

For more information about Shaw Main Streets, visit www.shawmainstreets.org.