Bill Freehling is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Bill Freehling.
Joining the Virginia Main Street Program about eight years ago has helped turn around Harrisonburg’s downtown, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance Executive Director Eddie Bumbaugh told a crowd of about 30 people gathered at Fredericksburg City Hall last night. Bumbaugh’s remarks came during a public informational meeting about the Main Street program, which Fredericksburg is thinking about joining (it’s already an affiliate member but may become a full member with a newly hired manager running the program). I’ll have more in tomorrow’s FLS on the possibility of Fredericksburg entering the Main Street program, but for now here are the factors that Bumbaugh said have helped turn around Harrisonburg’s downtown in the past decade (Fredericksburg is already doing many of these in its downtown):
- Authenticity. People appreciate that downtowns are real and historic. No new development, no matter how good it looks, can replace that authentic feel. Main Street participants can build upon that.
- Recruiting new businesses and other volunteers to help with the effort but retaining the ones you have. Existing merchants groups can co-exist with Main Street programs.
- Getting more people to live and work downtown. That attracts businesses, including possibly a grocery store.
- Providing plentiful free parking, but setting time limits so it’s not abused.
- Tax incentives are only “marginally important,” Bumbaugh said. A thriving downtown will sell itself to business prospects.
- Streetscaping and facade-improvement projects help make downtowns feel more welcoming.
- Holding regular events and attracting a hotel where visitors can stay within walking distance.
- Marketing downtown as the best place to shop and dine and developing gift certificates that can be used throughout downtown.
- Putting together a monthly newsletter to keep people informed about the efforts.