By Senator Howard Marklein
August 26, 2016
Main Street Vitality in Rural Wisconsin
The city of Shullsburg in Lafayette County was recently named a Main Street community by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). I was honored to recognize Shullsburg for achieving this distinction. The Downtown Main Street group worked long and hard to earn Main Street status, which will bring resources and support to continued efforts to revitalize and grow Shullsburg’s downtown.
The Main Street Program helps communities, like Shullsburg to restore, rejuvenate and grow their downtown to strengthen the entire community.
Shullsburg joins three other communities in the 17th Senate District that have achieved Main Street designation: Darlington (1996), Platteville (1999) and Monroe (2005). These cities have restored and grown the vibrancy of their downtowns.
Platteville became a Main Street community in 1999. At the time, there were many vacant storefronts in the downtown and an overall malaise in a once bustling district. The Main Street program provided the connections and support the community needed to fill vacant space, collaborate with other economic development entities and create a plan to make the downtown an interesting, fun and engaging space.
These days, you’ll find artistic bike racks, fresh paint, live music, community events, interesting storefronts and activity among the restored historical buildings in the downtown. According to Jack Luedtke, Director of Platteville’s Main Street organization, two of the main benefits of their participation in the program were being connected with potential retail tenants and access to historical renderings to guide the restoration of historic buildings in the downtown.
The city of Monroe has taken their Main Street designation one step further and has become a nationally-accredited Main Street community! In addition to the resources provided by WEDC, Monroe also receives connections to national resources and opportunities as well as an annual evaluation of their projects and opportunities by a national panel. This evaluation has helped Monroe to tap into their strengths.
One of the city’s strengths has been planning and executing special events throughout the year to draw people to the downtown. The Christmas parade, Trunk or Treat and Summer-themed events have been ongoing Main Street programs. This year’s Super Cows have drawn thousands of people to Monroe.
The energy generated by Main Street programs can translate into inclusion in other programs. Monroe, for example, received a three-year, $179,000 grant from the Federal government to grow and promote their downtown Farmers’ Market. Monroe has a weekday Market and a larger-scale Saturday market that draws people to the downtown. This event would not have grown without the efforts encouraged by becoming a Main Street community.
As Shullsburg adopts Main Street program practices, they are building on a lot of great work that has already been done to revitalize the downtown. Recent efforts to restore historic buildings, install period street lamps and pink sidewalks make Shullsburg an interesting small town to visit and enjoy.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation established the National Main Street Center in 1980 to assist nationwide downtown revitalization efforts. The Wisconsin Main Street Program is based on the Trust’s philosophy, which advocates restoration of the historic character of downtown while pursuing traditional development strategies. Communities selected to participate in the Wisconsin Main Street Program receive free, intensive technical assistance. The end goal is to enable participating communities to professionally manage a downtown or historic commercial district that is stable, physically attractive, competitive and visible.
Program benefits include volunteer training programs; advanced training on specific downtown neighborhood issues, such as marketing, business recruitment, volunteer development and historic preservation; on-site visits to help each community develop its strengths and plan for success; on-site design assistance and on-site counseling for business owners and managers.
The goal of the Main Street Program is to provide small cities with the support and resources they need to plan and nurture their downtowns to be revived centers of commerce and community. Most downtowns started this way. The “main drag” was the place where all of the stores, banks, service providers and business was done. It was the backbone of the earliest developments in our state.
Downtowns are important in rural communities. They are the place where people gather, businesses support one-another and communities begin. Shullsburg’s downtown represents the image and character of its place in time. While development throughout our communities is wonderful, much of it needs a place to start and a healthy downtown can be the epicenter of development.
For more information and to connect with me, visit my website http://legis.wisconsin.gov/senate/17/marklein and subscribe to my weekly E-Update by sending an email to Sen.Marklein@legis.wisconsin.gov. Do not hesitate to call 800-978-8008 if you have input, ideas or need assistance with any state-related matters.