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65 ways to get started with downtown revitalization

September 11, 2018
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  1. Join the WEDC Connect Communities program (if you are not already) or consider joining the Main Street program if you’ve been participating in Connect Communities for a while and are ready to take the next step.
  2. Hold a downtown stakeholder meeting. Show PowerPoint presentations or videos available from Wisconsin Main Street or ask a member of the staff to make a presentation. Then figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your downtown and set some goals.
  3. Beat the streets … know your constituents and keep them informed! Learn the needs of your downtown businesses by communicating with them on a regular basis. React with appropriate projects.
  4. Publish a newsletter to keep primary stakeholders and others in the community informed about your progress.
  5. Educate various stakeholder and community groups about the importance of downtown (see previous list of benefits).
  6. Photograph your downtown buildings now. Building rehabilitations can best be promoted with before and after photos.
  7. Complete an inventory of buildings and businesses in the downtown area. Include size, ownership, cost to rent and availability.
  8. Establish a close working relationship with the local chamber of commerce and other community or business development organizations. Coordinate a monthly lunch meeting for the executive directors of all these organizations to touch base and stay informed about each other’s activities.
  9. Create an instantly recognizable logo for your organization that symbolizes your downtown. Make sure the logo is easy to use and will be able to meet various graphic needs.
  10. Build a strong relationship with the area news media. Make it easy for them to cover your stories.
  11. Recognize a volunteer of the month in your newsletter or the local newspaper.
  12. Thank volunteers over and over again! Find unique ways of engaging and rewarding volunteers. Consider putting out a ‘help wanted’ ad to recruit volunteers with specific skill sets.
  13. Organize a youth advisory board to tap into students’ viewpoints about downtown, increase your volunteer pool, and provide an educational opportunity for area youth.
  14. Train your volunteers. Develop a short training session and provide them with information about the organization, appropriate news articles, your work plan, etc. Develop volunteer job descriptions.
  15. Join the National Main Street Network or International Downtown Association. For information, go to or
  16. Hold a fundraiser for a specific downtown project. Try one of the new crowdfunding platforms or go the old-fashioned route with penny jars at local businesses.
  17. Hold an annual cleanup day with the assistance of volunteers and community groups. Make it fun! Also develop an ongoing downtown maintenance program.
  18. Create a brochure (or Facebook page) to explain your downtown revitalization organization. Emphasize the importance of volunteers to the effort.
  19. Sponsor monthly “coffee breaks” for merchants to talk about downtown revitalization activities and issues that affect them. Rotate the location among businesses.
  20. Take a field trip to other communities that have implemented successful downtown revitalization programs or projects.
  21. Put together a PowerPoint highlighting your organization’s accomplishments for presentations to community groups. Get on the agenda for local civic and government organizations to share your successes. Make sure to mention your upcoming initiatives.
  22. Complete an inventory of your streetscape amenities, such as trash receptacles, benches, street lights and trees. Develop a plan for future improvements.
  23. Install quality “Welcome to Downtown” signs at the entrances to your central commercial district.
  24. Initiate preservation planning, including application for status as a Certified Local Government (CLG). Seek assistance from the Wisconsin Historical Society.
  25. Develop design guidelines and best practices to encourage appropriate downtown building renovation projects.
  26. Participate in Small Business Saturday and Shop Local Day., and
  27. Create incentive programs for building renovation projects. Grant and loan programs have been used successfully by many communities.
  28. Coordinate a walk through downtown. Identify “problem areas” that need attention. Think about areas you want to be and those you do not. How do you navigate downtown?
  29. Get a group together to explore downtown during non-traditional times, including nighttime. How does it feel? How is it different or the same as daytime hours? How could the evening experience be enhanced?
  30. Spruce up: Plant flowers, clean the alleys, sweep the streets and pull the weeds.
  31. Put together a banner program. Extra points for engaging local artists.
  32. Encourage business owners to change their window displays frequently, and to light them at night. Sponsor a window display and interior merchandising workshop.
  33. Put attractive displays in vacant windows. Local organizations, school classes, your local historical society or other businesses may be very willing to help.
  34. Look for a building that can be dramatically improved with a relatively small cash outlay, such as repairing or removing torn awnings, fix broken windows and repair broken signs. Work with the property owner to make it happen.
  35. Put together a downtown “sign squad.” Remove signs and the supporting hardware that no longer serve existing businesses.
  36. Sponsor design workshops to educate building owners, contractors and volunteers on appropriate building improvement projects.
  37. Develop an architectural awareness contest that draws attention to downtown’s historic assets. Consider an architectural features poster or postcard highlighting unique local building details.
  38. Pass a preservation ordinance for downtown.
  39. Showcase a recent downtown facade and interior renovation. Provide a tour of a quality interior remodeling or upper floor residential conversion. Publish a photo of a quality facade renovation in the local newspaper.
  40. Create a downtown people place, such as a park or children’s play area. Consider temporary installations like interactive sculptures, hopscotch on the sidewalks, etc.
  41. Produce a historic walking tour and brochure to promote downtown’s history.
  42. Assess downtown parking. Encourage business owners to leave prime spaces for customers.
  43. Coordinate an image development promotion or campaign that promotes your downtown’s strengths and assets.
  44. Encourage community groups to work with your organization in scheduling their events downtown.
  45. Plan and publish a calendar of events for your downtown.
  46. Develop a weekly newspaper column or radio show dedicated to your downtown revitalization program.
  47. Invite citizens to teach a craft or hobby downtown.
  48. Hold a local artist contest and give awards for the best photography/art/sculpture highlighting downtown. Use representations of the finalists’ work for promotions.
  49. Have a parade.
  50. Hold a street dance.
  51. Make sure your events are listed in all local, regional and statewide listings and tourism publications.
  52. Work with downtown merchants to create retail promotions that make those cash registers ring.
  53. Coordinate an exciting holiday promotion to bring people downtown.
  54. On a designated evening or Sunday afternoon, have merchants fix simple hors d’oeuvres to serve in their business.
  55. Develop a downtown business directory with a map to help visitors and local people find what they are looking for. Business directories also call attention to the wide variety of retail businesses, services, professional and government offices that the downtown has to offer.
  56. Help local businesses increase their online presence by adding business hours, menus and photos to common search sites such as Google, Yelp, and Citysearch.
  57. In the summer, show movies on the outside of a building.
  58. Schedule performances in downtown by local artists and musicians.
  59. Hold a downtown scavenger/treasure hunt.
  60. Sponsor an advertising and marketing seminar. Many local partners can provide this service free of charge. Facilitate other educational programs to address the specific needs of your downtown businesses.
  61. Conduct a downtown market analysis to better understand your customers and to help identify their needs. Gather census information on your community and trade area and conduct focus groups; get step-by-step instructions here.
  62. Meet with area realtors. Let them know Main Street’s goals, especially in relation to downtown properties. Be sure they are aware of market opportunities, and any available incentive programs.
  63. Stay informed. Budget for professional development opportunities, such as downtown revitalization conferences. Develop a library with downtown revitalization information that can be used by volunteers, businesses and the community in general.
  64. Stay on top of downtown vacancies. Be prepared to share information about them with business prospects. Use your completed market analysis to develop a business retention, expansion, and recruitment strategy.
  65. Renovate upper floors of buildings for services, office space or housing.

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