This program is an extension of the National Main Street Program, which operates in 46 states across the country. The NC Downtown Associate Community Program serves as the program through which small towns can become connected to the Main Streets program, which is where the visible action starts. The Main Streets program is focused on improving the downtown economy through a diversification of new ventures, strengthening of traditional main street businesses, creating beautiful spaces – by improving the storefronts, rear entrances, streets, gardens, and historic buildings – and promoting the area as a whole. Because it is an extension of the National Program, it operates using the “Four Point Approach” which includes four elements focused on downtown revitalization in order to ensure balanced development: (1) organization, (2) promotion, (3) design, and (4) economic vitality. This program is economic development within the context of historic preservation.
Where the Downtown Associate Community Program is so important is in that many smaller towns do not have the resources to jump right into the Main Street program – whether it be the funding, the organizational hours, or the plan to do so. So instead, communities apply to be accepted into the Downtown Associate Community Program through the NC Main Street and Rural Planning Center in order to prepare themselves to ultimately be designated as a NC Main Street participant. They do this by helping create a plan for economic vitality through using the community’s unique assets and then generate a budget and an action plan for the future. After this start-up phase the community may then be ready to move onto the Main Street Program, where they can start putting their planning work into action.
The Main Street Program has a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but also keeps a keen eye towards new uses for historic buildings, as not to make it too difficult to reimagine the space. “To me, the best historic preservation is to have someone love the building,” says President and Co-Founder of Strong Towns Chuck Marohn. Historic preservation and restoring architecture, in general, is something that affects the feel of a place. Tanner Ott, Real Estate Analyst and Project Manager at Ott Historic Rehab in Ely completely agrees: “Driving through town if you see broken windows and storefronts and paint chipping off, it’s not what your eye is drawn to, but it’s subconsciously going to affect your experience. Maybe it’s the other way around. If you have beautiful buildings, some people may appreciate architecture and realize that, but I think a lot of it’s [subconscious].” Many of these communities in North Carolina have used their historic and cultural heritage on Main Street to their advantage by creating a space for businesses, both new and old, to flourish. This helps to attract and retain residents, and creates an excellent quality of life through community and economic vitality.
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