Thomaston meeting on Maine Downtown Center’s Downtown Network Community designation

Jan 24, 2013

Recently members of the Thomaston Board of Selectmen attended the Maine SmartGrowth Conference and the fall meeting of the MCRPC where the topic of the Maine Downtown Center’s Main Street program was presented.

It is a program originated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation that focuses on revitalization of traditional downtowns to enhance the appearance and economic stability of the commercial district and to improve community pride and quality of life for residents and visitors.

The program has been adopted in 44 states and more than 1,650 communities across the country. The Maine Downtown Center is affiliated with the National Main Street Center and assists Maine communities in developing their own self-help revitalization programs.

At the Dec. 10 selectmen’s meeting, the possibility of the town of Thomaston becoming a Maine Downtown Center Downtown Network Community was discussed. The Maine Downtown Center is part of the Maine Development foundation. The center operates two downtown programs, the Main Street Maine Downtown Program for which Rockland is a member and the Maine Downtown Network Communities program for which Camden and Damariscotta are members.

The network community designation may be appropriate for a community like Thomaston. Like its sister Main Street Maine program, it uses the same Four Points Approach but at a lighter, less rigorous pace and is less costly. Network communities are not required to have paid staff. The basic requirements are for a community is to have a traditional central business district and center characterized by a cohesive core of historic and/or older commercial and mixed-use buildings and have a sufficient mass of businesses, buildings, and density to be called a downtown and to have a sustainable local network operational budget identifying projected income and expenses. The core of the program is the Main Street Four-Point Approach which has a reputation as one of the most powerful economic development tools in the nation for vibrant, healthy downtowns. It consists of Organization, Design, Promotions and Economic restructuring.

Since no organization is in place, the selectmen may have to appoint an organizing committee to start the process. This committee will need to include a broad representation of stakeholders and interested parties as possible, especially downtown village merchants, owners and business people.

Services provided to a Network Community: (1) Downtown Institute and Annual Conference: Maine Downtown Center sponsored training by a variety of experts on key downtown development topics. Discounts and scholarships are available for center members; (2) Organizational visits: Once accepted as a network town, Maine Downtown Center staff and/or advisors/consultants will conduct an initial or formal “walk about” visit providing downtown revitalization input to the local organization. Follow-up actions to include a start-up report and checklist along with fundraising strategies and a set of National Trust Main Street Center training handbooks. Subsequent visits identify progress made and provide suggestions for moving forward; and (3) Consultations: Maine Downtown Center staff would be available for email/phone consultations as well as the opportunity to learn about the best practices in the field and to network with peers from Maine towns and cities. Annual membership cost to the town is $250/$1,000, depending on population.

In order to inform municipal officials, village business people and other Thomaston citizens about the details and benefits of becoming a Maine Downtown Network community, a team from the center will be visiting Thomaston on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

The visitation will include a program presentation at 6:30 p.m. at Watts Hall, 174 Main St. for which the public is invited to attend and to participate in a question and answer forum. The team is being led by Rockland Main Street, Inc. Executive Director Lorain Francis with participation by Jayne Palmer and William King of Bath consultant advisors to the Maine Downtown Center and who have a long history of active participation in the Main Street Bath program. Bath was selected in 2001 as one of four initial Main Street Maine communities.

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