Wyoming Main Street is escorting a bus jampacked with downtown advocates to the Kansas City, Missouri, area March 21-March 29 for a week of workshops, classes and a national conference dedicated to teaching local leaders how to market their communities, fundraise for new amenities, develop a thriving commercial scene and breathe new life into their towns and cities.
The event consists of two parts. The first is a uniquely Wyoming event called the Best Practices Workshop, in which Main Street staff and community supporters will spend two days visiting four Missouri towns ranging in size from 5,300 to 30,000 people. These communities face similar challenges to Wyoming's.
Leaders from each town will guide the Wyoming visitors around while explaining how they approach marketing; incorporate public art; redevelop historic property into functional, modern uses; create public space and help the cores of their communities thrive.
The aphorism goes that great artists steal. The National Main Street Center takes the saying to heart by encouraging community leaders to incorporate what works elsewhere back home. That’s what the sponsorship-driven Best Practices Workshop, now in its 10th year, is all about.
"The Best Practices Workshop is the best training opportunity possible," said Jane Law, urban renewal coordinator for Evanston. "It offers up-close and personal training with others who face the same challenges. I always bring back ideas for the Strand Theatre, and we've borrowed ideas for wayfinding, street furniture, our street clock and how to implement a master plan."
The Wyoming contingent will attend the 32nd annual Main Street Now Conference following the workshop.
More than 1,600 commercial district revitalization professionals from around the country will attend the three-day conference, which features educational sessions on economic analysis, real estate redevelopment, marketing, grant writing, financing and more. Classes range from introductory courses and intensive half-day lessons to hands-on experiences with completed projects in Kansas City.
The conference is capped by the announcement of the Great American Main Street Award, the organization's highest honor. Rawlins won in 2015. The city was only the second Mountain West community to earn the award.
This year, Rock Springs is a semifinalist for the award, which recognizes a community for its exemplary achievement in the process of strengthening its downtown and commercial districts.
Wyoming Main Street is a program of the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency. The 13-year-old program oversees 16 local organizations recognized by the National Main Street Center.
The National Main Street Center wields historic preservation as its primary economic development tool.
In 2017, towns and cities participating in the Wyoming Main Street program netted 177 new jobs and 51 new businesses. The business community has responded to that success, pouring $3.81 for every public dollar spent on downtown projects last year.
This year, Main Streeters will visit Odessa, Chillicothe, Warrensburg and Kearney.
Odessa is a recent inductee into the National Main Street Center organization. Since 2014, Downtown Odessa has built an advisory board, recruited volunteers, organized community events and now is planning to turn a concrete slab in the heart of the district into the Railroad Park Pavilion, a community gathering space. The town will serve as a great example to Wyoming’s aspiring communities and those interested in what it takes to be a Main Street program. Of the 63 people participating in the Best Practices Workshop, 24 are going for the first time.
"Wyoming Main Street leaders each year rank the national Best Practices Workshop as the most important service we offer," said Linda Klinck, program manager for Wyoming Main Street. "Numerous projects seen in the main streets of Wyoming were birthed from an idea at the Best Practices Workshop."
The people of Chillicothe believe they are the best thing since sliced bread, since a bakery in the town of 10,000 was the first place to sell the product. Agricultural history runs deep in Chillicothe, but it’s also a town fast developing new industry, as evidenced by the $5.5 million in commercial construction projects started in 2017.
Downtown Chillicothe has built a public plaza, painted murals and renovated three dozen downtown buildings, including turning the Strand Hotel into 32 apartments. Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed, as the organization was named a semifinalist for this year’s Great American Main Street Award. Wyoming’s delegation will learn the strategies Chillicothe has used to shrink its downtown commercial vacancy rate to 4 percent and begin filling the upper floors of their historic buildings.
Warrensburg Main Street boasts a dozen annual events and $2.4 million invested in the downtown area through public grants and private donations. Town leaders will demonstrate to Wyoming Main Street advocates how they have gone about putting downtown buildings back to use by purchasing, renovating and reselling them. The town will also have lots to teach about streetscaping to encourage people to slow down and enjoy downtown and how to revitalize areas of town with public spaces like their Old Drum Plaza.
Kearney continues to balance its rapid growth with its historic lore as the birthplace and final resting place of infamous bandit Jesse James. Venues like the 4,500 seat Kearney Amphitheater and amenities like the Fishing River Trail are helping establish Kearney as a hub of activity north of Kansas City. Wyomingites will learn about ways to turn old community landmarks like fire stations and churches into business plazas and community centers that can transform their towns for the better.
For more information about the Wyoming Main Street program, the Best Practices Workshop or the Main Street Now Conference, call Linda Klinck, Main Street Program Manager, at 307-777-2934, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.