Jefferson Matters: Main Street was privileged to spend two days last week with representatives from the national and state Main Street programs. Their time in Jefferson was billed as a “tech visit” and is part of the services provided by the Main Street Iowa program to its member communities across the state.
The visit was facilitated by Michael Wagler, state coordinator of Main Street Iowa, who has been engaged with the program here since the application period to become a Main Street community got underway in 2011.
He journeyed here with Norma Ramirez de Miess, director of leadership development with the National Main Street Center, based in Chicago. Norma was in Iowa to spend time in Hampton to help the community and the Main Street program there facilitate outreach to Hispanics and to conduct the tech visit here in Jefferson.
Norma is a Main Street veteran, having served as a program director in Elgin, IL, a Chicago suburban community that has had great success through Main Street. She helped make Elgin (pop. 110,000) one of the largest and most diverse downtown revitalization programs in the nation. Through her work with the National Main Street, an independent subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C., she has helped communities across the nation assess organizational and programming needs and implement strategies that build successful revitalization efforts.
We were asked to set up meeting times with Norma, Michael and the various stakeholders and participants in JMMS. So over the course of two days they met for a lunch discussion with our board of directors and a late afternoon work meeting with our committee members. They also spent time meeting with city officials, Chamber of Commerce leaders, and property owners. They also toured the district and visited several downtown businesses.
Their visit concluded with a wrap-up session for our board and committee members where they reviewed their findings in an atmosphere that was encouraging and supportive.
First off, they have indicated that I need to take more of a leadership role in the organization. Agreed. They also noted that our program was making progress but we needed better communication to the community and our strategic partners to inform them of that progress. Our strategic partners are the city, county, business and property owners, donors and volunteers.
Initiating a monthly column in the Herald had been in the works for several months but had never moved beyond the “back burner” stage. So, a “maybe, sorta” startup date was changed to clear, firm date—May 1.
We’ve also launched a Jefferson Matters: Main Street newsletter. Main Street Beat is being distributed this week to the audiences we communicate with periodically via email and regular mail.
Norma also told us we need to strengthen our committee structure. Committees that support the four points of the Main Street program—organization, design, promotion, business improvement—are the backbone of a program like JMMS. We were urged to build our committees so that each has five to eight active members. From there, we need to further develop our base of volunteer helpers to support the work of the committees.
This tech visit was scheduled midway between last year’s annual visit in October and the upcoming 2014 annual visit in September. It could be considered a “mid-term” exam, so to speak. At the annual visit, we are graded. A program must fulfill a checklist of criteria to maintain its Main Street affiliation.
Last fall, we were found lacking in promotion. It was believed initially that JMMS could have the Chamber of Commerce fulfill that role, as that organization plans and executes a number of festivals that occur within our downtown district. Main Street—in its assessment—found otherwise. Our presence was not visible. As individuals we may have been helping out at events like Bell Tower Festival, Spring Into Greene and Hot August Night, but an actual presence of Main Street was absent.
We set about correcting that misstep by forming a promotion committee. We, and the Chamber of Commerce, continue to struggle with the role that each entity plays in the downtown district. Norma and Michael were quick to step in during our wrap-up discussion and make clear that Terry Poe Buschkamp, the Main Street Iowa specialist who handles promotion, was available to come to Jefferson this month to bring together our promotion committee and the Chamber’s newly-formed events and tourism and longstanding business promotions committees to help facilitate that discussion. Look for more information on those meetings in future columns in this space.
Norma was also quick to point out what we knew, but were struggling with—the need to reform our organization committee. So, that is another task ahead of us.
We have great support with our larger businesses, the city of Jefferson, and Greene County. But we need to enhance our level of engagement with the Chamber of Commerce, Greene County Historical Society, Greene County Development Corporation, Greene County Schools, downtown property owners, and businesses in downtown Jefferson.
Alan Robinson is program director of Jefferson Matters: Main Street. He can be reached at 515-3585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.