On March 1, 2022, Main Street America announced the 2022 Great American Main Street Award semifinalists.
“The Great American Main Street Award is the highest honor within the field of commercial district management,” said Patrice Frey, President and CEO of Main Street America.
“These eight semifinalists are shining examples of the kind of transformation that is possible when using the Main Street Approach. These programs have brought renewed vibrancy to their communities and sparked impressive preservation-based revitalization,” she added.
The reinvestment statistics from this year’s batch of semifinalists show the true impact of their hard work.
Together, these eight semifinalists have brought in over $139 million in public investment and more than half a billion dollars in private investment, generated 3,277 jobs, opened 844 new businesses, rehabbed 2,186 buildings, and logged 260,773 volunteer hours since their programs’ inceptions.
GAMSA semifinalists were selected from a nationwide pool of accredited Main Street America applicants based on their successful and innovative uses of the Main Street Approach™.
Criteria for winning include: strength of the Main Street program in spurring community transformation, commitment to historic preservation, innovative programming, implementation of cross-sector partnerships, community outreach and stakeholder engagement, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
More than 100 communities have been recognized as winners since the award’s inception in 1995.
Here are the 2022 eight semifinalists:
Heart of Biddeford | Biddeford, Maine
While Biddeford was once referred to as “trashtown” due to an incinerator in their downtown mill district, they are now a thriving destination with inclusive community events and vibrant small businesses.
Since Heart of Biddeford (HOB) started in 2004, the downtown vacancy rate has fallen from 20.7 percent to 4.5 percent, and they have seen a combined public and private reinvestment of more than $216 million.
For years, HOB has strategically engaged Biddeford’s long-time residents and newcomers, as well as built partnerships with organizations that reflect Biddeford’s diversity to make sure Main Street is for everyone.
Their partnerships have ranged from working with Black Owned Maine to support Black-owned businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic to partnering with Biddeford’s Recreation Department to gather volunteers to care for green space.
River District Association | Danville, VA
The River District Association in Danville, Virginia, offers residents and visitors alike the opportunity to appreciate rich history and culture from the Civil War to Civil Rights.
After the centuries-old textile industry in the area collapsed during the 1990s, Danville suffered a mass exodus of residents, as people sought new employment. Since 1999, the River District Association has overcome enormous difficulties and transformed Danville into a vibrant, welcoming, 21st-century town.
Downtown vacancy has reduced by 36 percent, resulting in 113 net new businesses and 465 net new jobs. In 2022, Danville is piloting a new program to oversee three Neighborhood Business Districts.
The communities selected are primarily communities of color that have disproportionately been affected by disinvestment. This exciting new program will spread the longstanding success and business growth of the River District Association to new areas.
Denison Main Street | Denison, Texas
Denison Main Street overcame the loss of their railroad headquarters in the 80s to become a thriving hub of music, arts, and entertainment.
A return GAMSA semifinalist, Denison Main Street has rehabbed 521 buildings and logged 26,031 volunteer hours since their inception. Community engagement is a key part of Denison Main Street’s work, including their Designing Downtown Denison (D3) initiative.
D3 involved hundreds of community stakeholders, regional partners, and elected officials to design and implement $45 million worth of improvements to downtown, including ADA compatibility, new water and sewer, new drainage, and all new street infrastructure.
From helping to save the local Railroad Museum to issuing grants to small businesses that were impacted by a downtown fire, Denison Man Street is a strong community partner.
Florence Downtown Development Corporation | Florence, South Carolina
Since 2002, Florence Downtown Development Corporation has been a small business powerhouse. They have a long track record of small business success through grants, loans, workshops, and public events.
In response to the pressures faced by businesses in 2020, Downtown Florence shifted their operations to focus primarily on economic vitality by developing small business resiliency materials, funding toolkits, new grant programs, e-commerce development assistance, and a virtual tip jar to support hospitality workers.
They also participated in a statewide task force to develop safe reopening strategies.
As a result of these efforts, the district experienced no business losses during the pandemic and welcomed six new businesses. Downtown Florence is an impressive model for the benefits of robust business support programs.
Hammond Downtown Development District | Hammond, Louisiana
Nestled along the historic Illinois Central Railroad line, the “historically hip” Downtown Hammond boasts people-centered places for all ages and backgrounds.
This college town located 45 miles from New Orleans features a lively entertainment and dining scene with 39 bars and restaurants in the 74-block district.
The Hammond Development District (DDD) has seen an impressive transformation since the DDD got its start in 1984, with 115 building rehabs. After extensive community engagement, the DDD is working to transform once vacant and underused land into eye-catching public spaces.
The new Railroad Park will be turned into a public park, and the Old Feed & Seed property now hosts a community garden and farmer’s market. Hammond DDD launched a range of initiatives to support small business during the pandemic and partnered with Urban Market Experience to bring more Black-owned businesses to Main Street.
Laramie Main Street Alliance | Laramie, Wyoming
Laramie Main Street Alliance (LMSA) is a vibrant pocket of arts and culture within the great plains. Downtown Laramie’s distinctive steel pedestrian bridge showcases the vibrancy of a historic district colored by 32 hand-painted murals from local artists to the east and adventure-primed snowy mountains to the west.
Like many downtowns, Laramie experienced a decline in interest and investment until it joined the Main Street program in 2005. Since then, 398 building rehabilitation projects have been logged, as well as 148 net new businesses and 689 net new jobs.
In 2015, they worked with the city to redevelop an empty lot and install Big Hollow Food Co-op as a tenant—an important community asset in what was previously a food desert. LMSA’s small but mighty approach to community development and longstanding commitment to arts, culture, and economic vitality promise a bright future for the city.
Mount Vernon Lisbon Community Development Group | Mount Vernon, Iowa
Since 2008, Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group has built a strong reputation as a Main Street destination through award- winning festivals, creative fundraising projects, stellar small business recruitment/retention and stunning design projects.
With the strong support of more than 500 volunteers, this small Main Street program has reduced the vacancy rate by more than 78 percent and has created 58 net new businesses and 474 net new jobs.
In 2015, the Community Development Group transformed a former high school gym into a museum space capable of hosting a world-class Smithsonian exhibition. The hard work of their many volunteers continues to invigorate their Main Street with programs that create a desirable place to live, work, and play.
Main Street Toccoa | Toccoa, Georgia
Main Street Toccoa is an economic engine for their downtown district. In 2020, a partnership with Amtrak resulted in a $2 million restoration of their train platform, one of only three stops in Georgia. The cracked and faded platform was made new, vibrant, and welcoming – the ideal first impression for the downtown district.
Main Street Toccoa also restored the Historic Ritz Theater, originally constructed in 1939. Over $600,000 in grant and city funding has been invested in the Ritz.
The district has a long record of powerful fundraising resulting in more than $16 million in public investment and $38 million in private investment.
From fundraising and business support to advocacy and cultural arts, the tenacity and passion behind the program have transformed the district and brought new life to downtown Toccoa.
Featured photo (by Trey Sherwood) shows the Historic Wyo Theater, which was gifted to Laramie Main Street in 2019, and since then has completed a pre-development analysis of what it will take to reopen the historic structure.