Earlier this year, the DC Council included funds for a Rhode Island Avenue Main Street program in the FY2014 budget. By the end of July, a request for applications was released by the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) to solicit applications from non-profit organizations to manage the program. The application closing date was August 28th, and the announcement of the organization selection is expected to happen in September. FoRIA submitted an application, and we’re eagerly awaiting the final decision.
This is an amazing opportunity for all of the residents and businesses along the RIA-NE corridor. We’ve received a lot of questions the Main Street program, so we thought we’d take a minute to share the questions we’ve been asked, and our responses.
• What is a “Main Street program”?
The National Main Street program has been in existence for over 30 years, and it is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2002, the DC Main Streets program was created through the national program, and it is managed by DSLBD. In 2012 alone, the DC Main Streets Program contributed some impressive numbers to the local economy:
Net Job Gain:
Net new businesses:
Rehabilitation projects completed:
Value – Private:
Public improvement projects completed:
Value – Public:
At its core, the Main Street program is essentially a tool, or template, that is used to strengthen and revitalize traditional commercial corridors. Historically, when “big box” stores and strip malls go into small towns in rural America, those communities would lose their downtown areas – their town squares or central “Main Street” district. Urban neighborhoods were seeing the same trend, as the suburbs expanded with malls and other retail destinations. Some beautiful and historic architecture was being lost in these areas, and the National Trust saw an opportunity to not only save historic buildings, but to really provide communities with the tools to save their downtowns. So the National Trust developed The Main Street Four Point Approach® to community revitalization, and the Main Street program was created.
• What is the “The Main Street Four Point Approach®”?
The Main Street Four Point Approach® refers to 4 areas of focus:
- Design – which means getting the area in top physical shape. Capitalizing on the assets, like historic buildings. But it also means creating an inviting atmosphere through improved landscaping, street/sidewalk infrastructure improvements, window displays, signage, etc., to convey a visual message about what a community’s Main Street is all about and what it has to offer.
- Promotion – selling the image – and promise – of a community’s Main Street. It means marketing the area’s unique characteristics to shoppers, investors, visitors, and new businesses. For our community, that means events like Fall Fest, which is all about getting the community to spend time on RIA and to begin seeing it again as a preferred destination. It means creating promotional material to attract new businesses and new customers.
- Economic Restructuring – this is about helping existing businesses expand, and recruiting new ones to respond to the market needs. It is about creating a cohesive business retention strategy that is more than just pushing for new businesses to open – it is about really understanding the market and being able to build an economically vibrant Main Street where the businesses thrive because they are in the right market for their product.
- Organization – this is pretty much the backbone of the Main Street program. It creates a cohesive program by getting everyone working towards the same goal. This means working with stakeholders like civic associations and local governments, community members and business owners, to build consensus on the path for the Main Street. The most important part of the whole Main Street program is that it is volunteer-driven, with community members and area business owners engaged as volunteers.
• What will a Main Street program mean for Rhode Island Avenue? New businesses/projects? Streetscapes?
It means all of the above. It means that members of our community have the opportunity to be a part of creating – and implementing – a vision of what retail resources we want to see right here in our community, with the benefit of having a template for action that has been successful in small towns and urban communities across the country for the last 30 years. We can’t stress enough how important it is for the community to get involved – to join committees, roll up their sleeves and get ready to work. Because if we don’t plot the course for RIA, someone else will do it for us.
So yes, a Main Street means creating a stronger local economy through improved streetscapes, vibrant businesses, and new job opportunities – but it also means the community working together to make the new Rhode Island Avenue Main Street something we can all embrace.
• When will the RIA Main Street program become active?
DSLBD is expected to announce the winning organization sometime in September. Program funds are in place for the winning organization to begin operations on October 1, 2013. Regardless of which organization is selected by DSLBD, there will likely be a short period of time for that organization to set up an office and start working, but Main Street-related activities should start up very quickly. Over the past two years, FoRIA has modeled its activities after the Main Street program template. If FoRIA is selected, there will be very little transition time needed, but we’ll still have some infrastructure details to work out.
• How can I support the RIA Main Street program? How can I get involved?
Become a volunteer! One of the most important components to a successful Main Street program is its dedicated team of community volunteers. The Main Street Four Point Approach® creates four distinct committees, all of which are completely staffed by community volunteers. FoRIA already has active committees working on several exciting projects, so don’t be shy! Here are several different ways to get involved: