Learning to revitalize downtowns

Published 12:06 pm Saturday, July 31, 2010

FRANKLIN—On July 22 and 23, Downtown Franklin Inc. hosted a statewide training presented by the Virginia Main Street program. Franklin has been a Main Street community since the program’s inception 25 years ago.

The Main Street program is managed by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. It works to revitalize Virginia’s historic downtowns by providing training and technical support to help communities improve and beautify their downtowns, and encourage private investment, business development and tourism.

Representatives from Virginia Main Street communities, downtown development organizations, local governments and others spent two intensive days exploring how they can create environments that attract and support entrepreneurs.

Topics discussed during the sessions included the preservation of historic buildings, strategic economic thinking and the importance of maintaining a high quality of life within a community. The group heard from Nancy Parrish, director of the Franklin Business Incubator, and toured the facility.

“Entrepreneurs choose to live in high quality communities,” said National Trust Main Street Center Program Officer Todd Barman. “While people once relocated for a job, they now find where they want to live and create their future there.”

With great natural beauty and attractive historic downtowns, Virginia’s communities are well positioned as choice locations. According to Barman, part of the quality is actually in how the community sees itself as a whole.

“In places where there is a collective approach with a shared vision of what a downtown district is and will be, investor confidence is much higher,” Barman said.

At the session, communities shared strategies such as increasing the availability of downtown living spaces, supporting businesses by creating local assistance teams, and improving the appearance of key community spaces. Locally, it makes sense.

“Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Downtown stressed a comprehensive look at downtown and a coordinated approach to providing business services and resources,” said Downtown Franklin Association Executive Director Dan Howe. “And there are some very specific tools that we put to work immediately.”

The event was sponsored by Southampton Memorial Hospital, Franklin Southampton Economic Development and Bronco Federal Credit Union.

Currently there are 21 designated Virginia Main Street Communities and 77 commercial district affiliates.

For more information about local downtown revitalization efforts, contact Howe at 562-6900. To learn more about the Virginia Main Street Program, visit: www.dhcd.virginia.gov/mainstreet, or call Program Manager Jeff Sadler at (804) 371-7030.