Valuable, well-attended events, beautification, rehabilitation incentives and recruitment of unique, viable businesses — cities often have many goals for their downtowns. Still, many separate community groups work toward these ambitions, and getting them to work in harmony can be a daunting challenge.
The Main Street program offers a time-tested approach for coordinating efforts and achieving downtown success. It helps build a comprehensive revitalization effort using strategies based on existing community assets, reminding stakeholders that a healthy downtown is a key part of sustainable economic development.
Main Street South Carolina, the state affiliate of the National Main Street Center, has served as a valuable downtown revitalization resource since 1984. It helps strengthen member cities using the Main Street Four-Point Approach: design, outreach, economic development and promotion.
Currently, 20 communities participate in the Main Street SC network: Aiken, Beaufort, Bennettsville, Camden, Cheraw, Clinton, Gaffney, Georgetown, Hartsville, Kingstree, Lancaster, Laurens, Manning, Moncks Corner, North Augusta, Orangeburg, Pickens, Summerville, Sumter and Williamston. The structure of the program in each of these varies depending on local resources and funding. Several communities maintain a nonprofit organization, but most house their programs inside city government. The programs are clearly effective: in 2018 alone, Main Street SC member communities saw an increase of 68 new businesses, 155 new jobs and $140 million of private sector reinvestment.
In the past year, Main Street SC has seen local interest in downtown improvement grow. To meet this increasing demand and to support continued progress in existing member cities, the Municipal Association of South Carolina is reorganizing Main Street SC so it can provide greater assistance tailored to each community's needs and readiness.
Friends of Main Street
At the startup level, any community with an identifiable Main Street district and the desire to learn the national Main Street Four-Point Approach can join at the Friends of Main Street level. This can help build capacity for downtown revitalization with a fee that helps programs meet their budget needs. This level provides phone consultations, quarterly trainings, technical assistance a la carte and use of the state's impact reporting system.
Classic Main Street
At the more engaged level, Classic Main Street, there are two ways to participate:
- Apply for entry and complete three years of Aspiring Main Street training. This level was previously known as Boot Camp. Annual fees are based on population. This level provides three years of technical assistance to programs in their formative years. Acceptance allows communities to participate in training, community assessment and receive local capacity building support. After three years, participants become Classic Main Streets.
- Accelerated Entry. Communities that can demonstrate that their local program meets and administers the Main Street Four-Point Approach and that maintain an annual membership with the National Main Street Center may be accepted without the three-year Aspiring Main Street period. Cities must identify a point of contact/downtown liaison, and areas of emphasis that could be shared with local partners.
Greater benefits available at this level include use of the National Main Street Center logo, quarterly trainings, executive director training, access to technical resources, eligibility for national conference scholarships, use of state impact reporting system, and annual organizational visits.
The community's application must describe the downtown area, historical identity, goals, readiness, support and funding commitments.
Accredited Main Street
Accredited Main Street members are members of the National Main Street Center and meet national accreditation standards. Requirements include an annual application demonstrating excellence in administering the Main Street Four-Point Approach and mentoring younger programs.
Communities wanting to participate at the Friends level and the Accelerated level are welcome each year, and membership is based on a calendar year. Main Street SC accepts and reviews applications for new Aspiring members and Accredited members in the fourth quarter of each calendar year for admission into the program January 1 of the following year.