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Opinion: Building Partnerships Will Helps in Revitalizing Downtown

Featured Photograph: A partnership created by the Nicholasville, KY Main Street program resulted in the successful Kentucky Wine and Vine Fest held in this Jesamine County community.

Opinions

Carola Lillie Hartley
Publisher and Contributing Writer

Several years ago, I wrote articles for the National Main Street Center’s Main Street Now! magazine. One of those articles was about the importance of building partnerships while working on downtown revitalization. Here is part of that article that I think would benefit those who are working for downtown revitalization in Opelousas and area communities.

Partnerships: Both the public and private sectors have a vital interest in the (downtown) district and must work together to achieve the common goals of Main Street’s revitalization. Each sector has a role to play, and each must understand the other’s strengths and limitations to forge an effective partnership. – National Trust Main Street Center—The Eight Principles of Main Street

When I started my career in Main Street, one of the first things I learned about downtown revitalization was the Main Street Four-Point Approach® and the eight guiding principles set forth by the National Trust Main Street Center. Over the past 30 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on downtown revitalization in five communities in three different states. My experiences tell me the key to a successful downtown revitalization effort is to follow those four points and eight principles. They work! It is important for a Main Street community to have a great organization, wonderful promotions, and good design and economic development tools. However, in most towns this can only be done by forming partnerships.

What is a partnership?
There are many kinds and definitions of partnerships. For this article, I am going to define a partnership as a relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by cooperation and responsibility, formed to achieve a specified goal.

Nonprofit organizations, for example, may form partnerships to increase the likelihood of each achieving its mission. Governments may partner with other governments or organizations to achieve their mutual goals; many religious and political organizations build partnerships to get their projects done.

So, why do Main Street organizations like the one in Opelousas form partnerships?
The answer is simple: they partner with other groups or agencies because in most cases they do not have the money, staff, volunteers, or other resources necessary to take on the enormous task of revitalizing the commercial districts on their own. In Opelousas, as in many communities, Main Street must compete with other groups such as chambers of commerce, economic development groups, tourism organizations, and downtown merchants’ associations, and others, for funds and volunteers. Instead of competing, however, it is wise to focus on cooperation and collaboration.  Convince these other groups to partner with Main Street for projects and activities and, in turn, team up with them on their activities, especially when they affect downtown.

However, as simple as that may sound, forming a partnership is not always easy. Although there are benefits to having partners, there are many challenges as well. Coming to an agreement on who is responsible for what in a partnership may create a disagreement. But just because that happens, it doesn’t mean that partnership will fail. It means everyone involved needs to put some things and feelings aside, compromise and work for the betterment of the entire community.

The article in Main Street Now! continued by exploring the benefits of partnerships and providing tools to help build an effective partnership. It also provided stories about partnerships from Main Street communities across the US. These stories focused on partnerships with other organizations (some public and some private) formed for projects using the Main Street Four Point approach, and its eight principles, plus the principals and ideas brought to the table by the other groups. The following are brief descriptions of some of those partnerships.  

Economic Restructuring (Economic Development):
One successful partnership highlighted in the article was in Newton, NJ. The Main Street Program in that small North Jersey community, working on economic development, partnered with a local downtown property owner and the town government to create the Springboard Shoppes at Newton. This was a retail incubator opened in a restored downtown historic building that helped to turn the downtown around. The Springboard Shoppes at Newton created several new retail businesses that filled the empty buildings and provided new jobs for local citizens.

Design:
Working on downtown Design, Bridgeton, NJ Main Street partnered with the City of Bridgeton, local banks, businesses and civic groups to turn an ugly vacant lot in the middle of the commercial district to a beautiful pocket park that is used by the entire community. With that partnership, the Design Committee was able to raise over $150,000.00 in cash and in-kind funds to complete the project.

Bridgeton, NJ Pocket Park in the center of downtown after the Main Street partnership project was completed.

Promotion:
The partnership formed to create the Kentucky Wine and Vine Fest in Nicholasville, Kentucky was also highlighted in the article as a way to help the Main Street Promotion Committee. This partnership produced the annual festival that attracted tourists from Kentucky and other states to the historic downtown and raised funds to help finance the Main Street organization known as Nicholasville Now.

Organization:
The Lyons, New York’s Main Street Organization Committee formed a partnership with the Lyons Central School District to create their Lyons Youth Ambassadors, the local Youth on Main Street group. This partnership works together on many projects throughout the year and even gets the Youth Ambassadors to decorate downtown business windows. To help the schools, downtown storefront windows are used to promote school events. Each spring, the high school and middle school presents a musical production, which Main Street promotes through displays in downtown windows. The Main Street manager works with the school music department not only to coordinate parades and events but also to help promote them with cooperative advertising. (It is interesting to note the Main Street Program in Opelousas, LA had one of the first, if not the first, Youth on Main Street groups in the US. Many other Main Street organizations around the country create their youth group using what was done in Opelousas in the 1990s as an example.)

Lyons, NY Main Street Youth Ambassadors in the downtown area of the community.

Another example of a great partnership was one called Cultural Partnerships on Main Street that Main Street Opelousas participated in during the 1990. This partnership was part of a presentation at the National Main Street meeting in Little Rock, AR in May of 1995 — with Opelousas taking the lead with two other communities for this workshop presentation.

There are several more examples of successful partnership featured in the article. For those who are interested, the entire article can be found by clicking this link to take you to a pdf.

https://acrobat.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:48f7ef1a-c644-3ec8-8018-00198345f622

Any partnership, large or small, that results in success is important. Great partnerships are successful because they are well planned. When you decide to enter a partnership to help accomplish your goals, be sure to plan well. Also realize that creating a great partnership takes work. Be prepared.

Main Street and downtown revitalization organizations are motivated by action and success. They get more done by creating partnerships. But they also know not every partnership will be successful. They may fall down every now and again but get back up, dust themselves off, and get right back to the job of revitalizing the downtown. Just because your first try did not work, that doesn’t mean you give up. Every day is a new challenge and every day those that really care about the community are up for it. Having great partners just makes it a whole lot easier.

Here are some do’s and don’t to help build that downtown partnership: