Top Honor For Great Main Streets

Considered a crown jewel of Wausau, Wisconsin, the 400 Block is a centrally-located park with a covered stage for hosting dozens of events annually.  WAUSAU RIVER DISTRICT / COURTESY OF NATIONAL MAIN STREET CENTER

Considered a crown jewel of Wausau, Wisconsin, the 400 Block is a centrally-located park with a covered stage for hosting dozens of events annually.


By: Tom Pfister

The National Main Street Center (NMSC) announced the 2019 winners of the Great American Main Street Award, recognizing communities who’ve excelled in preservation-based revitalization. NMSC presented the annual awards last night in Seattle at the Main Street Now Conference.

Three winners were chosen from applicants across the country by a jury of leaders in historic preservation and economic development. The criteria included: demonstrated success of the Main Street Approach; implementation of model partnerships; commitment to historic preservation; and strength of the Main Street community in creating an exciting place to live, work, play and visit.

“This year’s winners are proof that our commercial district revitalization approach has the power to transform communities across the country,” NMSC’s President and CEO Patrice Frey said in a statement. For over 35 years, NMSC has developed a knowledge-sharing network of downtown and commercial district revitalization professionals. NMSC is known for their time-tested framework, a trademarked four-point approach of organization, promotion, economic vitality and design.

The Great American Main Street Award winners are as follows:

Alberta Main Street in Portland, Oregon

Situated in northeast Portland, the Alberta Main Street program formed in 2010 after Alberta Street experienced decades of disinvestment. Now approaching ten years into their 20-year vision, stakeholders are committed to inclusion and the shared pursuit of prosperity. The nonprofit community organization’s programs encourage locally-owned small business development and real estate ownership among historically underrepresented local residents. Alberta Main Street reports 60% of the neighborhood commercial district’s businesses are women-owned, and 23% are minority-owned. In 2018, their special events, programs and activities drew 30,000 people to the district, generating an estimated economic impact of over $5 million. With this award, the Alberta Main Street group was recognized for building a thriving and equitable Main Street that reflects the diversity of their district.

Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon


Wausau River District in Wausau, Wisconsin

Along the banks of the Wisconsin River, downtown Wausau went to work and capitalized on its strengths. The impetus for a strategic transformation happened after having lost its competitive edge to outlying real estate development and relocation of businesses. Wausau River District, Inc. formed in 2002, tasked with marshalling downtown development, infrastructure improvements including redesigned streets and sidewalks, and public space enhancements for art installations and special events. Nearly $120 million in private and public investment has energized downtown Wausau’s 34 square blocks, with only 3% vacancy. The district’s events draw over 72,000 visitors annually. The Wausau River District was recognized with this award for cultivating an arts and culture destination with engaging public spaces and a booming local economy.

Wheeling Heritage in Wheeling, West Virginia

Wheeling, West Virginia, the state’s fifth-largest municipality, has had its share of economic woes over the years from declines in the industrial base and the resulting population loss. Designated a Main Street community in 2015, Wheeling Heritage assumed operations a year later after a merger, during a critical time when the downtown commercial vacancy rate was 32%. In less than four years, with a dedicated focus on facilitating the rehabilitation of properties, they’ve tracked reinvestment in 124 buildings, which spurred nearly $50 million of investment downtown including desperately needed market-rate apartments, and attracted 37 net new businesses. The vacancy rate was cut by more than half to 15%. Their recruitment strategies, crowd-funding events for new business ideas, entrepreneur trainings, and partnership grants signal their tangible commitment to keep Wheeling’s revitalization rolling forward. Wheeling Heritage was presented the award for transforming a once-blighted downtown into a thriving destination with a growing small business community.