More than 2,000 people from downtown development organizations and local governments will assemble in Milwaukee this spring for Main Street Now 2016, the annual conference of the National Main Street Center.


Wisconsin Main Street Communities

“This is a chance for us to show off what’s happening in Wisconsin’s downtowns,” says Darrin Wasniewski, downtown development program manager at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

This is the second time the national Main Street conference has been held in Milwaukee. In 1993, it was still called the National Town Meeting, and constituted a significantly smaller crowd of 400.

This year’s event offers more than 80 educational sessions to be held over the course of three days, as well as 14 mobile education sessions, in which groups of attendees will visit Wisconsin communities by bus. Mobile education session locations include Milwaukee’s downtown, breweries and Avenues West, as well as Fond du Lac County, Sheboygan County, Port Washington, Madison and Beloit.

In addition, a group of 80 people associated with Wyoming Main Street organizations will tour Platteville, Darlington, Monroe, Lake Mills, Cambridge and Kenosha, giving these communities a chance to show off what their Main Street organizations have accomplished.

The Wisconsin Main Street Program, which includes 35 communities, is a comprehensive revitalization program designed to promote the historic and economic redevelopment of traditional business districts in Wisconsin. Individual states’ Main Street programs are locally administered, but are affiliated with the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which is cohosting the national conference along with WEDC.

The annual national conference offers a chance to celebrate successes, share best practices and network. But Wasniewski says the conference’s appeal extends beyond an audience of existing Main Street organizations’ staff. Communities that do not yet have a Main Street organization still stand to benefit from the educational sessions—and in fact, he says, some of the session topics may appeal to an even broader audience. The sessions cover everything from branding and social media to fundraising and managing a volunteer effort.

Wasniewski will deliver a presentation at the conference on “critical conversations,” guiding attendees through a role playing session with strategies to diffuse tensions for a productive outcome. Joe Lawniczak, WEDC downtown design specialist, will speak about hospital and college expansions in historic districts. Errin Welty, WEDC downtown development account manager, will give a presentation with Jim Thompson of Main Street Iowa on quantifying the economic impact of redevelopment investments. Welty will also give a joint presentation with Emily Northey of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota on transition planning for small businesses. Naletta Burr, WEDC community account manager for northeast Wisconsin, will present with Quasan Shaw of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College on strategies for making communities attractive for entrepreneurs. And Art Lersch of UW-Extension will give a presentation highlighting the revitalization of Tomahawk’s downtown business district.

The program also includes presenters from the Wisconsin Historical Society, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-Extension, University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, Downtown Kenosha Inc., Avenues West Association, Near West Side Partners, NEWaukee and the City of Milwaukee.

Main Street Now 2016 takes place May 23-25 at the Wisconsin Center.

(January 2016)