“I have a confession to make to you. I used to think that putting money into downtowns was a waste of money and a money pit with no return.” That was how I started my talks at annual meetings of the Main Street Associations in TX and IL this past week. It was the first time I’ve ever talked to Main Street Associations and if I had sat down after that first sentence, probably my last. I went on, explaining to them that I came at development from an industrial standpoint and that until I started researching BoomtownUSA, my opinion hadn’t changed about downtowns from when I started in development.
But, as I found in my research over a three-year period on the book and further reinforced in my travels to almost 40 states since publishing last year, the downtowns hold the key to success for communities. I’ve seen the importance of them with helping to build community, creating a sense of place and acting as an anchor for the soul of the town. And, while downtowns have been important in the past, I see them as even more critical in the future.
As people are looking at fleeing the rat race of the large cities, they are often searching for special places that have created a certain “sense of place” of unique towns. Those communities that are redoing their downtowns to include shops, restaurants, entertainment and housing are the ones that are taking it to a special level. Towns like Oxford, MS; Traverse City, MI; and others “get it” and are creating special places that are becoming meccas.
I was wrong for the first ten years of my development career. I’m starting to get it, as I travel around the USA and observe wonderfully vibrant towns. If you don’t have a Main Street program in your town, you should look at establishing one.