Wisconsin’s downtowns and historic commercial districts are the centers of commerce, government, banking and social life in our communities. By preserving and revitalizing these traditional cores, communities can distinguish themselves from the competition and set the table for economic development.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation established the National Main Street Center in 1980 to assist nationwide downtown revitalization efforts. The Wisconsin Main Street Program is based on the Trust’s philosophy, which advocates restoration of the historic character of downtown while pursuing traditional development strategies such as:
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) works with communities ranging from villages with populations of less than 1,000 to large neighborhoods in Milwaukee and Green Bay. Communities selected to participate in the Wisconsin Main Street Program receive free, intensive technical assistance. The end goal is to enable participating communities to professionally manage a downtown or historic commercial district that is stable, physically attractive, competitive and visible.
There are no quick fixes for declining downtowns/historic commercial districts. Success is realized through the comprehensive and incremental approach of the Main Street Program. Four elements combine to create this well balanced program:
Design involves creating an environment where people want to shop and spend time. First impressions can have a lasting influence. Rehabilitated buildings, attractive storefronts, enticing window displays, clean streets and sidewalks, and properly designed signage together present an appealing image to potential customers, tenants and investors.
Organization involves building a Main Street framework that is well represented by civic groups, merchants, bankers, citizens, public officials and chambers of commerce. Everyone must work together to renew downtown/urban neighborhoods. Fundraising, volunteer development and public relations are examples of organization activities.
Economic restructuring involves analyzing current market forces to develop long-term solutions. Sharpening the competitiveness of Main Street’s traditional merchants, recruiting new businesses, and creatively converting unused space for new uses are examples of economic restructuring activities.
Promotion creates excitement in the downtown/urban neighborhood district. Street festivals, parades, retail events and image development campaigns are some of the ways Main Street encourages consumer traffic in the downtown. Promotion involves marketing an enticing image to shoppers, investors and visitors.
Communities are selected for participation in the Wisconsin Main Street Program after going through a rigorous review process to demonstrate their commitment to the program and to maintaining long-term success for their downtown district.