Focusing the Work of Main Street Through Transformation Strategies
October 26, 2021 | Keith Winge
Transformation Strategies came out of the Main Street Refresh that the National Main Street Center did in 2015 and are now being integrated into their new accreditation standards, which will be rolling out in the near future. The accreditation standards are a measure of a local Main Street program’s work and impact in their downtown district. This assessment determines whether a local program receives the accredited designation.
In 2015, the National Main Street Center created a Task Force of Main Street and downtown revitalization specialist who led what they called the Main Street Refresh, which looked at the Main Street Four Points to determine if they were still relevant since their creation in the late 1970s. The results of the Refresh indicated that the Four Points are still very relevant to the Main Street Approach™, but the framework can be used in a more flexible way, allowing for a variety of organizational models. It also noted that preservation still remains a focus, but additionally, the work of the Main Street program needs to be driven by an understanding of the market conditions both locally and regionally. Community engagement is vital to the success and sustainability of any Main Street program including residents, district stakeholders, and key partners. The last finding in the report pertains to the idea of Transformation Strategies and ties all of these things together. The Task Force noted that “the direction of a Main Street program is guided by Transformation Strategies – economically-supportable statements around which the program develops its action plans. Transformation Strategies incrementally create positive change in a district’s economy and are implemented through simultaneous activity across the Four Points.” Another way of looking at Transformation Strategies is that they are economic strategies, which help guide and focus the work of the local Main Street program. Main Street programs do not have unlimited resources so Transformation Strategies determine priorities for two to five years to get the highest return on their efforts.
Transformation Strategies are being integrated into the new accreditation standards since the findings from the Refresh reinvigorate the Main Street Approach™. Transformation Strategies elevate the processes, strategic planning, and annual board planning sessions that Main Street has used to successfully revitalize their district by refining the rough edges. We all have experienced planning sessions and meetings that have felt like an exercise in herding cats. There are many forces pulling and pushing a Main Street board of directors. This new Transformation Strategy focus provides guidance for the local program using community input, light market analysis, and some outside help and support. In the pilot communities utilizing Transformation Strategies, the board of directors and executive directors liked the new process because it helped them focus the work of the committees but also allowed them to say NO to certain things because it did not fit into the current strategies.
The development of Transformation Strategies is not rocket science, but the process of community input, analyzing market information, and looking at current conditions brings the necessary steps into focus for creating those impactful economic strategies to move the district forward for the next 2-5 years.
Missouri Main Street Connection is currently working with our communities to develop Transformation Strategies to focus their revitalization work and prepare for the National Main Street Center’s new accreditation standard to roll out in the near future. The Accredited and Associate Tiered organizations are undergoing the process of developing Transformation Strategies if they have not already done so in past years. This framework has involved a meeting with the board of directors and the staff to review the process, evaluate past successes and opportunities, gather organizational and district information, and prepare for an online community survey. The 16-question survey was developed to garner information on how the community views downtown, how they currently use downtown, and what they would like to see downtown. The results of the survey are evaluated with demographic and market data to start painting a picture of opportunities and needs in the downtown district. Missouri Main Street Connection staff analyzes the data along with past knowledge of the district and community to recommend one to two Transformation Strategies for the board of directors to consider. After board discussion and adoption, the organization begins to integrate the strategies into current projects or events, while also brainstorming new project or events with the goal of implementing economic change within the district that align with the new focus.
Missouri Main Street Connection also currently uses the Transformation Strategy development process in the Community Empowerment Grant program with new communities establishing a Main Street program to establish the process of strategy development as a foundational tool for the organization in the beginning.
For more information on The Main Street Refresh or Transformation Strategies, visit the Main Street Resource Library under the Organization Point at www.MoMainStreet.org.