Great American Main Streets
In the early 1980s, several downtown Danville buildings needed repairs. A new bypass and mall were draining sales from the downtown merchants. But Danville residents wanted to make sure downtown didn't meet the same fate as other communities threatened by sprawl.
Since then, the town has fostered an appreciation for the town's Victorian architecture while creating economic development initiatives to nurture a vibrant central business district. Virtually every structure in the central business district has been rehabilitated, and new businesses continue to seek spaces on Main Street to open or relocate.
Since its founding in 1846, Elkader, Iowa, has been the county seat and a trade center for Clayton County. Even with a population of only 1510, it maintained its reputation as a state leader in per-capita retail sales. But in the 1980s, the town suffered a decline and, one by one, small stores closed.
The revitalization began in 1991. To address the ailing building stock, design proposals were generated for every building in the district, and one by one the original facades reappeared.
Volunteers from the Elkader Development Corporation raised more than $65,000, built river walks along both sides of the river, and installed lighting on the historic Keystone Bridge. Residents also raised money for a new library created from three vacant buildings downtown.
Now, 77 buildings have been rehabilitated or restored; 99 percent of downtown buildings are occupied; and Elkader has nurtured a growing heritage tourism industry. An astonishing 17,838 volunteer hours have been logged since the organization "Main Street Elkader" began its revitalization effort.
Before 1978, downtown Enid, Oklahoma prospered with busy retail shops and professional offices. But as in many American cities, the town "modernized" its buildings in an effort to compete with new shopping centers. Most of the historic facades disappeared under aluminum slipcovers.
Starting with renovated streetscapes and slipcover removals, the organization, "Main Street Enid," turned a former grocery warehouse into Adventure Quest, the nation's largest outdoor learning playground and hands-on arts and science learning center. Twelve thousand volunteers worked to create what is now Oklahoma's most popular children's destination.
Main Street Enid has been an economic boon for downtown. Enid proudly boasts 34 facade renovations since 1994, transforming the central business district into the community's cultural, historical and recreational center. New restaurants, restored building facades, and numerous attractions have made downtown once again bustle with enthusiasm and economic prosperity.
When the railroad came to Mansfield, Ohio in the 1850s, the town was transformed from a sleepy village into a prominent manufacturing center. By the late 19th century, downtown was a vibrant Victorian community, continuing to grow through the first few decades of the 20th century.
In the post-World War II years, however, downtown Mansfield's vitality began to fade. By the late '70s, the entire downtown was in a state of decline, and one especially blighted area was known for its abandoned buildings, rough bars, and prostitution.
As a catalyst for the neighborhood's redevelopment, a group of business and civic leaders installed an old-fashioned carousel in the middle of this area. It was the first hand-carved carousel made in the United States since the 1930s.
Since Richland Carrousel Park opened in 1991, a number of retail, restaurant and office spaces have been developed. In 1999, the Carrousel District reached 100 percent occupancy of its finished space. In addition to building restorations, developers used landscaping, brick, and ornamental ironwork to create a distinctive downtown.
The ongoing revitalization of the once-derelict Carrousel District has led the way for downtown's reemergence as a thriving commercial district, rekindling a sense of pride that was all but lost.
Walla Walla, Washington
When the residents of Walla Walla, Washington decided to bring their deserted town back to life, they started from the ground up. They created the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation and adopted the National Main Street Center's four-point approach to downtown revitalization, focusing on design, organization, promotion, and economic restructuring.
A streetscape improvement project served as a focal point for historic preservation. Complete renovation of the Liberty Theater followed and the rehabilitation of other historic buildings. Other economic successes include a hotel and conference center and the American Motorcycle Museum. The town has attracted high-tech businesses and is planning a technology zone for downtown.
Aggressive historic preservation efforts have encouraged 249 downtown property rehabilitation projects. The most important change in the last 16 years has been the dramatic shift in the public's perception of downtown. While few people seemed to care about Walla Walla years ago, today it is a symbol of community pride.
The Great American Main Street Awards competition is open to main streets and neighborhood commercial districts in towns and cities of all sizes with a core of traditional buildings.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. It provides leadership, education, and advocacy to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize communities.