What Works

17 years ago

On Friday, June 1, members of the Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee attended the seventh annual downtown conference in Houlton. We learned a significant amount of information about trends around the state and country in terms of downtown revitalization. The keynote speaker, Kennedy Smith, was vibrant and gave us vital information regarding what has made successful programs effective in other areas.
    The first thing she mentioned was the importance of the Revitalization Committee working in close partnership with the city government and downtown business and property owners. Without that partnership, success is much more difficult. Together, we need to create market-based strategies. We need to determine what our goals are. What are we trying to achieve? Do we want to increase sales and revenue? Do we want to raise rent levels? Do we want to rehabilitate and maintain buildings? Smith explained that in order for the downtown to generate trade, we need to have a sharp market-driven focus. Two ways to do that are by building retail demand by increasing housing opportunities and by developing downtown businesses that serve the location.
According to Smith, the principles of successful downtown programs are as follows:
• A comprehensive strategy that addresses all aspects of the downtown.
• Incremental steps – it will take years to accomplish what we want to accomplish. Then the downtown will need to be maintained. We need to commit to being in it for the long haul.
• Self-help – volunteers are the people who get it done, and we need to have volunteers to help with the different aspects of the downtown revitalization and maintenance.
• Partnerships – everyone has to buy into the revitalization. Members of the community, the government, the business and property owners all need to work together. The purpose of revitalization is not to benefit only the retail merchants, but to benefit everyone.
• Revitalize and highlight the unique assets of the downtown. People who are looking to locate here will first look at the downtown.
• We need to maintain a high standard of quality in order to make a good impression. We need to let people know that we’re doing well.
• Sometimes revitalization involves changes in current attitudes and practices.
• The implementation of our plan has to be project and strategy oriented. And evaluation is very important.
An effective tool for revitalizing Main Street is assessment. It is important to assess the skills that exist in the community, the resources we have access to, and the marketing opportunities that exist. We need to respect the community’s carrying capacity, as well. Smith explained that market demand for our downtown can be determined by multiplying the number of households in the community by the average retail spending per household.
She continued to explain the importance of the downtown retaining its authenticity. Downtowns have authenticity in abundance. The history, values, and natural resources show the personality of the town. Over the years, however, towns have lost their distinctiveness in part due to chain stores. It’s important to have buildings that are expressive of their eras. It was interesting to learn what the current 20-something generation thinks is “cool” in downtowns. They love the old buildings and their history and the independent businesses that reside there. They especially enjoy seeing all the people on the streets. Smith showed us pictures of innovative ideas that have been created in some towns. One town has dance steps embedded in the sidewalk. Another town has rocking chairs up and down the street. Still another town has had local artists paint lovely renditions on otherwise drab brick walls around the town. And a very homey idea in one town was called Knitta – people would knit around the bottoms of the telephone poles, mailboxes, etc.
A popular trend these days is called “working locally – selling globally.” It is very easy now through the use of the Internet. One man has a Web cam in his shop and advertises his goods on the Internet, as well. When a customer wants to look at an item, the shop owner trains his Web cam on the item so the man can see it at his own location.
New trends in marketing goods are being created daily. Retailers are thinking differently now and kids are buying differently. There are stores created solely for advertising, with virtual images on the windows to advertise products. Many of these stores actually have zero percent sales goals. Theme stores are becoming very popular around the country, many of which sell goods related to popular movies. Some businesses have mobile retail units – large rooms that travel on flatbed trailers. And Smith showed a picture of one store that had video images on the fronts of large drawers. The images show the contents of the drawer until the customer has stood in front of the drawer for 30 seconds. Then their picture appears on the drawer.
The important thing to remember is that we need to tailor our plan to the personality and needs of our community. We need to create high standards for our downtown and we all need to work together to meet these standards.
We are unique and we are special. We need to show others our distinctiveness.
You can get more information about the PIDRC or join us by calling Sandy Gauvin (764-0876), Cathy Beaulieu at Wilder’s Jewelry Store (764-0309), or Patty LeBlanc (769-7731), or you can contact us through the information listed below. We meet at the Presque Isle Area Chamber of Commerce on the Houlton Road at 7:30 a.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month. We invite you to join in our efforts to help our wonderful city.
Please write us with your thoughts and opinions. It’s your city and we need your input. You can write us at: The Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee, 411 Main St., Presque Isle, Maine 04769, or you can e-mail us at pidrc@yahoo.com.
The Presque Isle Downtown Revitalization Committee is
an ad hoc committee of the Presque Isle City Council