Downtown Middletown Inc. has taken a step toward accomplishing its biggest goal for this year: Joining the list of cities across the country that are part of the prestigious Main Street program.
Only 23 Ohio cities currently have Main Street status, with 21 others, like Middletown, having affiliate status. The status can lead to increased property values and more downtown job opportunities, officials have said.
For communities with populations larger than 5,000, one requirement of such programs is that they have a full-time director. DMI’s board checked that off the list Wednesday when it bumped up Executive Director Mallory Greenham from part-time to full-time employment. The change takes effect April 1.
“That’s been one of our goals for a long time, to be moving forward toward a Main Street program,” said Phillip Harrison, president of DMI’s board. “This year, it’s part of our strategic plan that we’re really hoping we can achieve that by the end of the year.
“It’s a lot to take on, but we’re trying to take the steps we can, and we’re moving forward,” Harrison said. “I hope we get there, or get very close.”
Harrison said Greenham is a strong leader of the organization, largely because of the Madison Twp. native’s passion for the city. She’s a 2002 graduate of Madison High School and an Ohio State University alum.
“She brings what a lot of people that are downtown bring, and that’s the passion for improving the downtown so that our community can have something to be proud of, and to improve our identify here in this city,” Harrison said. Also: She has “a willingness to work way beyond what we expect of her.”
“If we become a Main Street community, it should be a real feather on our hat,” Greenham said during DMI’s recent annual meeting. “We will be opened up to heritage tourism, to grant opportunities. We get national recognition. It should be something we all can be proud of.”
Greenham has had success attaining Main Street status: Several years ago, she was the one who filed Marietta’s successful application to join the program, an accomplishment that Ohio River city had hoped to attain for more than a decade.
Joyce Barrett, executive director of Heritage Ohio, the non-profit organization that administers the Main Street program in the state, said the Main Street program requires organizations like DMI to be sophisticated before joining.
The national Main Street program was founded in 1980.
“We look at the factors that Main Streets special,” Barrett said. “I don’t know if you can name a town that’s being successful at grass-roots downtown revitalization who is really not in the Main Street program, or hasn’t done the Main Street program and dropped out — we’ve certainly had some of those we’re still friendly with.”
Among other things, the community’s Main Street manager, under the national requirements, is required to track economic statistics, because “you can’t do strategic planning without the statistics in place to understand your job creation and your reinvestment,” Barrett said.
Main Street organizations must have strategic plans, must be grass-roots organizations, and must undergo annual reviews to remain in the program. Significant amounts of training are required for staff throughout the year, so they keep up on successes other cities are having.
A lady from one Ohio city recently asked Barrett, “Why should we join Main Street?” she said. “And I just said to her, ‘Well, how’s it been working for you without Main Street for the past 3o years?’ because we’ve been going to that particular town year after year after year, and they never join, because every time you leave, they go, ‘Oh, we can do that without them.’”
“When you visit a community and they think they know everything, and your downtown’s pitiful, and you already know everything, I think you need some outside information,” Barrett said. “You know upper-level housing (in downtown buildings) is critical, but why isn’t it there, and how are you going to get it there? You’re going to go out (in seminars) and you’re going to learn from other people how to get it there.”
DMI has aspired to be a Main Street organization since at least 2010. The organization is funded by revenue it generates through events it hosts, sponsorships of the organization. The organization also receives $25,000 from Middletown to administer its building-facade grant program.
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