Cheney Free Press -

By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

Bringing Main Street program to Cheney

 


Between 40-50 community members gathered at Cheney’s City Hall auditorium June 25 to talk about what can be done to revitalize the city’s downtown — and how the state and other communities can help.

The meeting, hosted jointing by the city’s planning department and the Cheney Merchants Association, featured a presentation on the Washington State Main Street Program. The state program, an offshoot of the national Main Street program, currently has been used by 32 cities in the state, many with populations approximately the size of Cheney’s, 10,000 – 20,000 people.

The program’s state coordinator, Breanne Durham, told the mix of residents and business owners that revitalization efforts should be guided by principles such as being comprehensive, with incremental gains based on a long-term goal and homegrown.

“Using outsiders is not ideal,” she said. “It needs to be grassroots, people in the community.”

Main Street is built on four points: design, economic vitality, promotion and organization. Durham said design is about creating spaces providing public access and interest, in some cases using architectural preservation and enhancements to storefronts to fashion an environment unique to the community.

Economic vitality is about developing businesses in a downtown, what Durham called an “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” This is achieved by gaining an understanding of the community’s market place through building and business analysis and inventories.

Communities engaging in this expand existing businesses and encourage retention, while also recruiting new retail and office businesses appropriate to the environment.

Organization requires the development of community partners through communication, using all types of media, fundraising and volunteerism to develop leaders. Promotion involves developing markets through image efforts such as special events, education and campaigns like “Shop Local” and “First Fridays,” along with sidewalk sales and special local discounts.

Durham said she believes strongly in this approach to downtown revitalization, and cited several examples of successes in cities such as Selah and Ellensburg.

“Main Street is in essence about small wins,” she told the audience. “You’re constantly working towards building momentum.”

After Durham’s presentation, attendees split into four groups based upon individual interests, with each group focusing on one of the four points. Durham’s instructions were for each group to come to a consensus on one goal or project they would hypothetically develop over the next six months, then figure out how to do it and the people needed to accomplish the goal.

Of particular interest to her was the presentation from the promotion group about the need in Cheney for local groups such as the school district, Eastern Washington University, CMA and the West Plains Chamber of Commerce to breakout of their own information silos and talk to each other, rather than engaging in separate initiatives. The group’s six-month goal was to get one representative from each organization together to meet, get up to speed on each other’s efforts and utilize the various local media channels to present information to the community.

In a June 29 interview, Cheney planning intern Patrick Hanley said the development effort is in its “freshman stages.” The next steps will be to go back through meeting notes and information sheets filled out by attendees to see where interests lie.

“It’s just talking right now,” he said.

Of 32 information sheets turned in, Hanley said 28 indicated they were interested in participating in this type of program. In that case, there would be two ways for Cheney to go — become a full Main Street member or an affiliate.

Hanley said the feeling right now is to become an affiliate, since that wouldn’t require creation of a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization and could be done under the CMA umbrella. While there is a small amount of grant money available through Washington Main Street and their umbrella organization, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, a main attraction for Cheney is the ability to develop mentor-type relations with other cities using Main Street to help with local efforts.

“With the Main Street program, you have that well of other cities to draw from to see what worked and what didn’t work, and that’s promising for us,” Hanley said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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