UrbanMain is a new program of the National Main Street Center, designed to help restore economic vitality and promote quality of life for residents in under-resourced older and historic commercial districts. The program uses a set of community-driven economic development tools and services to bring sustainable growth back to these traditional neighborhood centers.
UrbanMain offers specialized services, professional development, networking, and advocacy for the field of urban commercial district practitioners. Nationally, there are UrbanMain initiatives underway in Birmingham, Alabama; Pontiac, Michigan; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In May of 2018, the National Main Street Center selected two neighborhood districts for their UrbanMain program in Chicago: the Quad Communities Development Corporation and the 51st Street Business Association. They will receive technical assistance and capacity building to enhance their efforts to reinvigorate the local business environment on Chicago’s South Side, advance economic opportunity for residents, and position 43rd Street and 51st Street as destinations. UrbanMain’s work in Chicago is made possible through a three-year commitment from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and support from Groupon.
“We are pleased to be bringing UrbanMain’s resources and technical expertise to bear here in Chicago and to be working with both corridors,” said Dionne Baux, Director of Urban Programs with the National Main Street Center. “These districts are close to each other, but are facing very different challenges. Each district manager’s commitment to revitalizing these corridors – and to working closely with community leaders, partners, and stakeholders – will bring new economic opportunity, while preserving local history and culture.”
Located in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood, the Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC) works to create and sustain a vibrant commercial district with support and resources for small businesses. QCDC’s UrbanMain program will focus on the 43rd Street corridor to preserve historic structures and identify opportunities to unite nodes of business activity in the district.
“QCDC and our partners are excited to work with the Chicago UrbanMain team and the well-established Main Street program,” said Rhonda McFarland, Executive Director of the Quad Communities Development Corporation. “We believe that the Main Street program and its proven success will be a great tool for Bronzeville’s 43rd Street business owners, residents and stakeholders to use in crafting an updated and actionable vision and plan for our historic mixed-use corridor.”
With the success of programs such as Bronzeville Summer Nights and the support of local business owners and community stakeholders, the 43rd street corridor is well established as an anchor of activity in Bronzeville. Despite this, vacant retail spaces, empty lots, and underutilized buildings permeate the district. Multiple concurrent projects are poised to bring resources to the area, including support for small business owners and historic structures. QCDC’s UrbanMain program will look to leverage community assets and external resources to support nodes of activity around a unified district strategy.
A little further south, the 51st corridor in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood is a hub of activity acting as a gateway to the University of Chicago and the future Obama Presidential Center. The 51st Street Business Association has worked with local businesses and building owners since 2009 to implement façade and streetscape improvements and create a unified image for the district.
The relative size and scale of the district reflects a traditional Main Street community, but the area has faced challenges arising from disinvestment and vacancies. With increasing car traffic due to development to the east, the 51st Street Business Association UrbanMain project will create a strategy to activate the neighborhood’s substantial historic fabric and create innovative retail projects to attract residents and visitors.
“The 51st Street Business Association is very honored to have been selected for the Chicago UrbanMain Technical Assistance program,” said Sandra Bivens, Executive Director of the 51st Street Business Association. “We also would like to thank Groupon and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation for their continued support of grassroots groups like us that work the neighborhoods of Chicago creating change and opportunities for businesses and residents. Chicago UrbanMain Street is a needed resource in our work of developing economically viable neighborhoods.”
The UrbanMain Chicago team will work with the partner organizations over an 18-month timeframe. Applications for additional UrbanMain Chicago neighborhood partners will be available in 2019 and 2020.
The National Main Street Center has been helping revitalize older and historic commercial districts for more than 35 years. Today, its network of more than 1,600 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. The organization is a non-profit subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Formed in 2003, Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serving the south lakefront communities of North Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas and Grand Boulevard. A catalyst for the creation of a vibrant, sustainable, and healthy mixed-income community, QCDC drives the development of commercial projects, supports and attracts small businesses and creates an environment supportive of private investment.
Founded in 2009, the 51st Street Business Association initially served the area primarily as a response to the lack of administrative services available throughout the community business area. This organization is a single point-of-service not-for-profit organization providing consultation services to businesses, entrepreneurs, community focused groups, and residents in Chicago’s Grand Boulevard and Bronzeville neighborhoods.
Photo of mural courtesy of 51st Street Business Association.