By Crystal Thompson
A field representative from the National Trust for Historic Preservation was in Havre on Friday to discuss the Main Street Program.
John Mitterholzer, a representative from National Trust for Historic Preservation in Denver, presented a slide show and answered questions about incorporating the Main Street Program into Havre's downtown business areas. Over a dozen people were present at the hour long meeting in the Heritage Center, including members of local businesses, chamber members, and local government officials.
The Main Street Program focuses on revitalizing main street businesses and creating a prosperous central location for shopping and community gathering. It encourages overall improvements of existing stores and promotes new business into the downtown area. Because the program is through the historic preservation trust, it also promotes bringing back or maintaining the historic facade of the buildings.
In the 1970s the National Trust for Historic Preservation realized that downtown business areas were dying. Malls and superstores were taking customers away from local and specialty shops in the center of town. Business began to sprawl outward, and the heart of the city stopped beating. The National Trust then decided to create a program that would revitalize downtowns and bring life back to the main street.
The Main Street Program works not by handing out money in the form of a grant, but by encouraging owners to increase their revenue by improving the look and feel of their business. Over the past twenty years, the program has been incredibly successful in re-developing the economy of several struggling downtowns. The program has averaged a $8,454,000 reinvestment per community, which equals a ratio of $38.34 for every $1 spent.
The program follows a four point system to achieve downtown revitalization. The first step is organization; which consists of holding public meetings to discuss the aspects of the Main Street Program. City government, media, building owners, and merchants should all be present at these meetings in order to get a fair assessment of what needs to be done.
Secondly, the program focuses on economic restructuring. This includes the adaptive use of vacant buildings, by using them for offices or apartments; as well as introducing new and potential businesses to the area. The next step is downtown promotion, which includes holding special sales and events to draw the community back to the downtown. Once people realize that the downtown is changing, they are more likely to return. The final factor is design, which includes improving the appearance of the downtown through window displays, storefronts, and signs; and bringing back the authentic historic look of the structures.
At Friday's meeting, Debbie Vandeberg of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said that a lot of the ground work for a project like this is already done and on file in Havre. Mitterholzer said that Havre was a perfect Main Street community because of its size and its historic structures.
The Main Street Program generally takes five years to produce significant results, but the results are well worth the time and effort said Mitterholzer. A traditional commercial district is an ideal location for independent business; which in turn keep profits in town, supports local families and community projects, and provides a stable economic foundation for the city. In time, Havre may be seeing reaping these benefits as well.