Revitalizing downtown means strengthening the social, physical and economic value of a community’s traditional central business district. The primary goal of revitalization efforts is to improve the livability and quality of life in a community by expanding and attracting employment, shopping, and social activities. It should be noted however, that downtown revitalization programs are not guaranteed successes. This is true no matter how well promoted they are, no matter how well planned they are and no matter how well financed they are. The fact of the matter is that there are strong economic forces at work that have historically worked against small downtowns, and this is often the reason downtown declined in the first place.
Downtown revitalization is not simply “clean it up and they will come.” Throughout the United States there have been a number of programs that have resulted in pretty–yet empty–downtowns. Recognize early that building a nice downtown is not enough, and understand the wants, needs and desires of potential downtown users. To this end, all downtown decisions must be made with an eye to the users. Why bother fixing up a building no one will visit?
While downtown programs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, typical activities and projects include:
- Organizing people who are committed to downtown
- Creating a vision for downtown, emphasizing retail and commercial spaces
- Devising and implementing a plan that facilitates achieving the vision
In order to successfully revitalize downtown, communities must have a long-term plan, some financial backing, and commitments from property and business owners, local government officials, and local residents. While revitalization programs require substantial amounts of individual time and effort, they offer a great chance for success in smaller communities.
Why Revitalize Downtown?
In many ways, healthy downtowns represent healthy communities. With revitalization, downtowns can once again serve prominent and important roles within their communities. Communities should consider revitalizing their downtowns for a number of important reasons:
- Improves Image. Downtown’s appearance is the first impression a community offers to visitors.
- Makes Use of Existing Buildings. Reusing properties can help communities manage growth.
- Develops Community. Because downtowns have been a traditional focal point in most communities, they are a source of identity to most local residents.
- Provides Residents with Retail Services. In many rural places, Main Street offers a diversity of retail stores, financial institutions, public agencies and local government offices, historic areas, and cultural and educational institutions. This diversity provides long-term strength to downtown.
- Downtown is an Employment Center. Downtowns are still a major source of local employment. This provides the potential for a regular and continuing user base for functions located in downtowns.
- Expands the Tax Base. Successful downtowns generate local revenue to pay for community services.
- Prevents Blight and Abandonment. A strong downtown will have lower health and safety costs and concerns.
- Keeps Dollars in the Community. With services and goods available locally, residents will not need to shop outside the community as often.
- Downtown Revitalization Assistance is Available. A number of programs are available to help downtown revitalization efforts that have given a particular focus to the needs of downtowns, and have successfully addressed the unique needs of downtowns in their program orientations. In addition to Adirondack Architectural Heritage, assistance from the following organizations is a good place to start to orient yourself with the process of revitalization:Downtown Research and Development Center (downtowndevelopment.com) National Main Street Center (www.preservationnation.org)
Center for Community and Economic Development (www.uwex.edu)
National Agricultural Library, Rural Information Center (www.nal.usda.gov): provides information pertaining to community planning resources; downtown revitalization; business improvement districts; case studies, best practices, and model programs; funding sources; Federal funding database; Federal programs; additional funding sources; journals; organizations; and regional rural development centers