Design: Everybody gets this Point!

by Mike Jackson; Springfield, Illinois

Saline Main Street

The National Main Streets Conference will have a great range of topics that address the critical area of design. Topics including urban planning, streetscapes, historic preservation, storefronts improvements, signage and graphic design are all on the agenda. Even the topics of parking and building code enforcement can be a part of the design committee agenda.  Whether you are a new attendee, or an experience manager, there will be sessions to expand you imagination and capacity.

The Sunday sessions will kick off with a presentation on “sign design” provided by staff from the National Park Service. Their national perspective on this issue will feature case studies but will also get into the details of sign ordinances, which can be both a friend and a foe of historic preservation. Sunday afternoon’s Overview: Design session is designed for new attendees to provide insights and best practices into the plethora topics that come under the heading of design. Experienced managers will also get exposed to design issues that are coming up with mid-century building and historic preservation.  This session will cover Main Street design topics related to historic preservation, urban design and then fit this into the management responsibilities for the design committee.f parking and building code enforcement can be a part of the design committee agenda. Whether you are a new attendee, or an experience manager, there will be sessions to expand you imagination and capacity.

Monday’s sessions will continue the conference agenda of providing content on a wide range of design topics. The sessions start with a program on “place making,” which puts the Main Street experience into its largest framework. This will be followed by presentation on “right sizing” and building code enforcement, topics that are also being discussed in city hall. The Monday sessions will address both urban design and building design topics.  Store layout, visual merchandising and storefront design all have sessions.  The need for public spaces will be covered in the larger scale of the community.  There will be another session on street furniture, a topic that never fails to get on the design committee agenda.

Tuesday’s design sessions will bring the arts community into the Main Street experience. Public art is but one of the sessions. The use of art to help with “placemaking” and “art for the price of a pizza” will showcase exciting contributions from artists in making great Main Street. The final topics on the agenda will look at the administration of design review and the special needs to serve tourists on Main Street.

We are excited about this years’ agenda and know you will come away with new insights to keep your program fresh and get “to the point.”

Photo credit: Saline Main Street

OMGIG!

by Ferndale DDA

That’s what we are saying these days around this Great American Main Street Downtown Ferndale as we get it together for NMSC’s first ever Welcoming Reception – Get In Gear (GIG) on Saturday, May 17th.   Every single day we’re checking off the punchlist of those pesky, can’t do without, work plans as the GIG comes closer to reality. We are very nearly ready to GIG.

Hope you are too.  If you haven’t signed up yet, do it now because this GIG, besides revving your engines for four days of an extraordinary conference in the very extraordinary Detroit, also includes shopping.  Seriously.  More than 50 of our downtown businesses jumped at the chance to do something special for event attendees and when our businesses make a promise, they deliver.   We’ve got a primp and go special to refresh you from your travels, 10, 20 up to 50% among retailers selling their niches -  Irish ware, jewelry, indie products, magical candles, vintage,  repurposed, art. One downtown fave is not only offering a discount on products but a complimentary cocktail to make you feel welcome.

All the above specials and more will be included on the GIG Passport you will receive when you board the bus for Downtown Ferndale. You will be able to map out your shopping and after-party dining adventures with our handy dandy guide.  Should you purchase more than you bargained for (who’s never done that?)  don’t worry, we can transport it back to headquarters for you.  For those driving in, park anywhere, pay at any multi-space meter, then go directly to the Rust Belt Market, 22801 Woodward Avenue, the party venue you just can’t miss to get what you need to get the offered discounts.

While we invite you to shop all day, the busses start running from headquarters at 4 pm.  At 6 pm, the  main attraction begins and it is definitely going to be an OMGIG! We’ve booked an amazing band, the Saints of Soul,  so bring your dancin’ shoes.  We’ll be serving tastes from 10 of our fabulous Downtown restaurants plus beverages made in Ferndale and we’re not just talkin’ soda pop! (BTW – it’s called “pop” in Detroit).  Tantalizing your palette will be the product of Valentine Distilling with a specialty cocktail, Schramm’s Mead and BNecktar serving up a host of meads, in addition to Michigan beers, and shrubs mixed with bubbles from the McClary Bros. for a refreshing twist on pop.  The whole GIG takes place inside one of the coolest spaces around – the Rust Belt Market, which is etsy in the real.    This place is 15,000 square feet of indie-artisan vendors and an interior event space – where the GIG will be – that rocks.  Another couple huge tents in the adjoining alley should give everyone plenty of room to relax, sit back and enjoy the company of others who actually get what you do for a living or for fun.

Because Downtown Ferndale really comes alive about the time the GIG ends at 9 pm, we’ve made arrangements for shuttle busses to continue until 2 am. There are opportunities-a-plenty to have a good time.  The restaurants and bars are all planning something special for that evening – from rockin’ DJ’s in an underground bar to drink specials all over town. Plus, we’ve got some comedy, some nightclubs, the most delicious dishes you’ll ever have and a friendly, diverse and open-minded community.  You will be welcomed!

Sign up today. It’s FREE and it’ll definitely be a day-into-night experience that will get you in gear for the days ahead. See you soon!

“Like” Get in Gear Welcoming Reception on Facebook for the latest updates on this event!

 

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Available for both Apple and Android devices!

In your app store search “National Main Streets Conference 2014” or click on these links:

 

Main Street at Detroit’s Eastern Market

by Dan Carmody

Great food and a great place! Among larger traditions of autos and music, people don’t often realize that Detroit is one of America’s local food hotspots. Building on the legacy of Michigan’s diverse agriculture (more than 150 crops grown commercially) and rich ethnic traditions, Detroit’s Eastern Market is one of the nation’s most comprehensive regional food hubs where our past, present, and future food systems collide.

Terrible Beauty

In my nearly 40 years of community, economic, and downtown revitalization experience, no place has captured my interest the way Detroit has since first encountering it in the spring of 2007.

On a bleak March Sunday morning, my wife Vivian and I came up over a desolate bridge upon this scene:

My eyes bugged out considering the toxic cocktail of de-industrialization, regional fragmentation, and social exclusion that brought this destruction, but as a serial Midwestern rust-belt city junkie, the enormous potential of the place was also profoundly evident.

At this time, unknown forces (aka Josh Bloom the former National Main Street Center icon) tipped off an Austin, Texas headhunter about my existence and six months later I was selected to lead the Eastern Market Corporation, on whose eastern edge the above photo was taken.

Seven years later, I am happy to report that when you come to Detroit in May for the National Main Streets Conference, construction of the Dequindre Cut, a nearly 1.5 mile recreational greenway, will be in full speed.

While it will take some time to achieve our goals of a mixed-use, live-work corridor, on the east side of the Eastern Market District you will be able to see this fascinating work-in-progress while you enjoy one of the most colorful special events anywhere.

Flower Day Weekend

Eastern Market is an outlier among historic public markets. Most other historic markets are comprised of permanent vendors within one or a couple of historic buildings (i.e. Pike Place, West Side Market, Reading Terminal). Detroit Eastern Market spreads over five buildings and transient vendors serve a variety of markets from the year round Saturday Market to seasonal Wholesale and Tuesday Markets.

The busiest season for Detroit Eastern Market is the flower season from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day. On the weekend when Main Street is in Detroit, Eastern Market will be hosting the 48th Annual Flower Day presented by the Metropolitan Detroit Flower Growers Association. More than 150,000 people will visit the market on Saturday May 17thand Sunday May 18th.

This is what 12 acres of flowers looks like:

Big Bash

On Tuesday May 20 Detroit Eastern Market is pleased to host the Big Bash. It will be held in Shed 3 our largest market structure, originally build in 1922. It was fully renovated at a cost of $6.2 million in 2010. It is our most signature structure and it will provide a wonderful backdrop for the food, beverages, and conviviality that make public markets and main streets places nourish hunger of stomach and soul.

See you in Detroit.

Dan Carmody has served as President of Eastern Market Corporation, the non- profit organization that manages and promotes Detroit’s venerable Eastern Market since 2007.

Carmody previously served as President of the Fort Wayne (IN) Downtown Improvement District and as President of Renaissance Rock Island (IL).

Beyond his day job duties, Carmody has also provided consultant services to more than 40 communities throughout North America and is a frequent presenter at state, regional, and national Main Street conferences.

 

Detroit, Through The Eyes of a Child

by Kristi Trevarrow, Downtown Rochester

My first memories of Detroit are priceless.   Every Christmas Eve, after leaving my grandparents house in East Detroit, my parents would take me downtown to see the lights.  It was awe-inspiring for a girl barely five years old to see the sparkling lights lining the streets, the towering Christmas trees, the lights on the side of the Fisher Building.  It was nothing short of magical.

As the years went on, my adventures continued downtown.  My grandfather had an advertising business on Grand River and we’d spend the days exploring – Eastern Market, the Renaissance Center, the DIA and Greektown just to name a few.  I loved the sound of the old brick street on Michigan Avenue as we drove to our favorite lunch destination.  I marveled at the public art throughout the downtown and again came to the conclusion that Detroit was a special place to be.

When I started working for Downtown Rochester many years ago, my eyes saw Detroit in an entirely new light.  I saw the breathtaking architecture that had fallen into disrepair, the public spaces crying out for people to occupy them.  But one thing was abundantly clear to me, people loved Detroit.  No one builds these kinds of buildings without passion and purpose.  Detroit is a treasure trove of hidden gems just waiting to be rediscovered.  I wondered if any one saw Detroit the way that I did.

Fast forward to today and I have my answer.  Investment in Detroit is off the charts. New residential units are springing up all over downtown.  People are not only investing financially, but investing their time and talents as well.   There are good people doing great things in Detroit every single day.  I’ve often said that there isn’t one solution or one person to “fix” Detroit.  It takes a village and that village already has so many successes under its belt, with many more opportunities on the horizon. 

The best evidence I can give of the revitalization of Detroit is, coincidentally, through the eyes of a five year old girl.  I took my daughter to Belle Isle to see one of my favorite childhood haunts, the Belle Isle Aquarium.  The Aquarium reopened in 2012, after being closed for 7 years for lack of funding.   It is now the only all volunteer-run public aquarium in the country.  As we drove through Detroit, my daughter delighted in driving on the bridge to Belle Isle, marveled at the larger-than-life sculptures that inhabit the park on the way to our destination. 

 

As we approached the building, I was struck by the breathtaking structure, which was designed by Albert Kahn in 1901.  Of course, my daughter had fish on her mind, so we hurried inside the building.  It was like I was a child all over again.  The sea green glass tile on the barrel vaulted ceiling was exactly as I remembered.  There were subtle changes, more improvements to be made, but it was amazing.  My daughter and I spent at least an hour, meeting every single finny friend in the place.  And she loved every minute of it – and asked when we would be coming back. She didn’t see the work that needed to be done, she felt the magic and made memories in that moment.  Yes, there are many more trips to Belle Isle, and Detroit, in our future. 

So the theme of the conference is “Works in Progress”.  You might as well put a photo of Detroit next to that statement wherever it appears because it is, in fact, a reflection of what is happening downtown right now.  When you come to Detroit, you will have the opportunity to discover our greatest asset, our people.  Quite honestly, you will have the pleasure of meeting some of the most passionate, resilient and determined people you will ever find.  It may not be a formal “Main Street” program, but Detroit is a classic example of people stepping forward and investing in their community because they believe that it can be better, stronger, and a place that they are proud to call home.

We look forward to welcoming you into our Detroit home this May.  Bring your open minds, your creative lenses and witness a true transformation, the real “works in progress” happening every single day in the City of Detroit.

 

Dubious Achievement Awards… a time to laugh!

by Cindy Czubko

In this crazy world of Downtown revitalization, a little laughter can be just the right medicine we need to help us forge on and continue the great work we do.

For many years, the Dubious Achievement Awards were one of the highlights of the Big Bash during the National Main Street Conference.  We all looked forward to the ridiculous, funny and odd photos that were shared from Main Street communities across the country.  It gave us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves, and boy did we laugh…hard.  And as hard as we laughed, the reality was that these outrageous awards gave us a chance to see that we weren’t alone in this world of ours…or as crazy as we thought we were.  The Dubious Achievement Awards, like the conference itself, gave us some time to escape the madness we experience on a day-to-day basis.

This year, after a several year hiatus and many requests to bring them back, the Dubious Achievement Awards will once again be part of the fun at Big Bash to be held at Eastern Market.

However, we can’t bring them back without you.  So find your funniest, dig for your craziest, uncover the most questionable photos or embarrassing stories you have, and enter them into this year’s Dubious Achievement Awards!  Judges will choose the most laughable or amazing! The top entries will be shown at the Big Bash for the crowd to choose their favorite.

Submissions are due March 15, 2014 at 5 p.m. Click here to submit!

Here are some examples of what we are looking for:

  1. Ugliest Building
  2. Strangest Business Mix
  3. Public Improvement Gone Wrong
  4. Strangest Business Hours
  5. Strangest sign
  6. Oddest Thing to Happen to a Main Street Manager
  7. Accident Waiting for a Place to Happen
  8. Social Media Bloopers
  9. Auto-Correct Fail

 

“Get in Gear” in Downtown Ferndale

by Chris Hughes, Downtown Ferndale

Main Streeters who attended the 2010 National Conference in Oklahoma City might recall a thing or two about Ferndale, Michigan – Detroit’s first inner ring suburb. We are unabashedly proud to note that Downtown Ferndale was one among the 5 recipients of the Great American Main Street Award that year and as much work as we did back then to earn the GAMSA, we now work that much harder to continue to deserve our great reputation and our brand. Of course, you all know that because that’s what you do every day. This is exactly why you are going to love to start your conference experience in a town that knows how to work hard AND how to celebrate. Have we planned a party for you!

For the past six months, the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority and its volunteers have focused on welcoming all of you to the Motor City via the portal that is Downtown Ferndale. You’ll start your conference right and “Get in Gear” for “Works in Progress” when you make your first experience at the Get in Gear Welcoming Reception–the first party of its kind that is actually on the conference docket. 

In the months ahead, we will share all the details but we can promise that it will be held in one of the most innovative indie-markets on the planet, a tourist destination in its own right,  the Rust Belt Market. Check out this video for an inside look at this excellent venue.

The Welcoming Reception will include time to shop the more than 50 artisan vendors who ply their trade at the Rust Belt, plus all the indie/kitchey retailers of the district. Live music featuring Michigan-made tunes will get your gears turning, a taste of the best of the Downtown Ferndale foods and spirits, time to check out local art and above all, a chance to meet and greet fellow conference attendees.  Did we mention that just about the time the party winds down (9 pm or so), Downtown Ferndale lights up with dozens of bars and entertainment venues? We’ll be sure to keep you busy having fun until you’ve nearly had enough! 

So as you prepare to travel to Detroit, make your plans to arrive by 4 pm on Saturday, May 17, jump on the tour bus, and get your conference going at the best welcoming GIG ever in Downtown Ferndale.

For more information about the Get in Gear Welcoming Reception, keep an eye out on the Facebook event page.

Go Like a Pro! Main Street’s Professional Development Track in Detroit

by Valecia Crisafulli

In 1991, without a clue what I was getting into, I attended my first National Town Meeting on Main Street in Biloxi, Mississippi. As a first-time attendee, I found the sessions absolutely amazing—full of new ideas and forward-looking concepts that had the potential to remake the small town in Illinois where I was living then. I haven’t missed a conference since, though when I moved from volunteer to state Main Street coordinator, then to manager of a mid-sized city downtown program, and on to the National Main Street Center as a program officer, my needs and expectations as a conference participant changed.

Whether you’re a seasoned Main Street manager or a recent college graduate aspiring to a downtown revitalization career, this year’s professional development track in Detroit promises to be the best yet. While in a very real sense all the conference content can be viewed as professional development for those working in the field, there has been a deliberate move this year to offer a comprehensive range of sessions focused on professional and organizational management skill-building.

New to the field? Or thinking about a career in Main Street? The introductory overviews of the Four-Point Approach on Sunday are “must haves”—a rare chance to get a full-day, 30,000- foot view of how Main Street works from experts in their subject areas. There are also sessions on how to deal with difficult personalities who have an axe to grind, how to ask for year-end gifts, and how to manage time better—not to mention all those e-mails!

If you’ve been in the field for a number of years and feel you have a good grasp of the basics, then check out sessions on leading an organization through change, developing more effective communication skills, and working more collaboratively with local preservation organizations. Veteran managers are also encouraged to join their colleagues from across the country on Sunday afternoon for an in-depth Managers’ Roundtable focused on identifying issues and group problem solving.

The professional development track, while concentrated in the classroom sessions, also extends to the mobile workshops, where tours like “Midtown Detroit: A Work in Progress” allow professionals to see the Main Street Approach in action in a transition neighborhood with projects ongoing in each phase of the redevelopment process.

When the conference ends this year, you’ll be glad to know you’ve made a significant investment in your own professional growth and development—and future career success. Check out the entire professional development track here.

How to Transform Your Downtown in 48 Hours

By Isaac D. Kremer

The 2014 National Main Streets Conference will feature many opportunities to learn about unique downtown revitalization tactics in both downtown Detroit and across the country. Here’s a story from Downtown Middlesboro, KY! For more information on educational sessions and tours visit the conference website.

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What self-respecting main Street manager would turn down an opportunity to transform a block of their downtown in 48 hours for $1,000 or less? That’s how I met Mike Lydon of Street Plans Collaborative in 2010. He visited me in Oyster Bay, New York, where I was the director of a Main Street program restoring Theodore Roosevelt’s home town. Lydon and his team helped us organize the third Build a Better Block project ever held. The first was in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas a few months prior, and another one was held in Fort Worth before our Oyster Bay event.

The idea is simple. Get a bunch of volunteers to carry out low-cost interventions that plant the seeds for long-term change. What better response to shrinking budgets, tight capital markets, and declining civic participation? Get citizens involved in the act revitalizing their town. The only thing is that this idea is not a new one. The National Main Street Center and over a thousand Main Street programs across the country have been doing this very same thing for over 30 years now.

Shortly after the event in Oyster Bay, Lydon co-authored the Tactical Urbanism Manual. The document was made available for free download. In a short period of time over 100,000 downloads happened. This documented dozens of projects from all over the world to bring about transformation and change on a shoestring budget. Lydon was not the only one to pick up on this trend. Recently, Fernanda Sotelo while a graduate student at Columbia University wrote her thesis, “Beyond Temporary: Preserving the Existing Built Environment with Temporary Urban Interventions.” This analyzed several Better Block projects and argued how Tactical Urbanism can be a driver of historic preservation. The big piece of advice she had was to engage a historic preservation planner in the process. For communities fortunate to have such a person, they are ahead of the game and probably well on their way to revitalization. For everyone else, these responsibilities most likely fall on the Main Street manager as the leading advocate for historic preservation in their town.

Fast forward to Middlesborough, Kentucky, just a few months back. The Board of Directors of Discover Downtown Middlesboro identified Tactical Urbanism as a strategy they hoped to employ as early as December 2012. At that time the following goal was set for the Design Committee:

“Utilize “tactical urbanism” as a tool to encourage small, immediate, finer-grain improvements that lead to larger and more comprehensive change over time.”

A few months later the organization secured an $8,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission and administered by the Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College to bring in Lydon to help with the planning and implementation of a Better Block event. Around that time another happy coincidence happened. The CommunityMatters® initiative launched their Successful Communities Contest. They challenged towns all over the country to come up with one idea to make their town better. Since our planning for the Better Block event was set to kick-off the same day as the conference call launching the contest, we decided to piggy-back the two events on one another. Middlesborough eventually submitted our project to this national competition, and, lo and behold, after nearly two weeks of daily online voting and waging a vigorous campaign – we won the competition outright.

This understandably generated a significant amount of buzz. The local paper and radio stations got into the act. People from all over were voting for Better Block Middlesborough. Even our U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers cheered us along on Twitter.

After winning the competition and the $500 prize that came along with it, the hard work began. Now we actually had to go out and plan, design, and implement the two-dozen interventions we said would be done.

Once again some happy coincidences helped this idea along. The first was finding a willing building owner. There is a 1940s theater on South 20th Street, one block of the main intersection of our downtown that we affectionately call Fountain Square. Not only was the owner willing to let us into the theater, they also allowed us to fix up several adjacent vacant storefronts in the same building for use as pop-up-shops.

Around this time our partnership building efforts really took off. We had colleges and universities in the area and from as far away as Lexington offer to help out. Area churches, school groups, and residents lend their help to the project. Some missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just happened to have an apartment in the same building we were working in. They got involved.

One of the biggest boosts came from the Fund for the Arts in Louisville. We were able to match every dollar raised through their power2give.org website with an additional dollar of matching funds. We attracted $5,000 of local money, that helped us earn an additional $5,000 from the Humana Foundation. So all of the sudden our small $1,000 budget expanded to over $10,000.

By this point the event took on a life of its own. As I often described it to volunteers, think of Better Block as being like Christmas and your birthday all wrapped up into one. Or more simply put – think of anything you’ve ever wanted to see done downtown, and use this event as a way to achieve those visions.

We reopened the Park Theater that had been closed for over 30 years. The first night of the event we gave it a thorough power washing. The next day we painted the inside and installed a screen to show movies. That night we screened It’s a Wonderful Life before an audience of several dozen paying attendees. The event earned us $138. More significantly it showed the pent up demand for entertainment downtown.

In one of the vacant storefronts we started an Exploration Center for children ages 0-10. This was designed by educators to private creative play and kinesthetic learning opportunities. The storefront was divided into sections with different stations – one for music, another for food, and another set up like a school. We designed the Center so it could take on a life after the Better Block event and it has.

Our work didn’t stop there. Pop-up-shops went in up and down the block. The shop “Slice of Art” sold framed art, antiques, and pie and cookies. We loosely modeled this after the Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama (http://pielab.org/). This pop-up shop earned us $127 over the weekend and another $100 for some of the art that was sold.

One of the greatest successes were our parklets. These six by twenty foot wooden structures were placed on the street in spaces used for parallel parking. Tables with colorful umbrellas and chairs were put on and around them. Landscaping and garden lighting further helped the parklets stand out. One of the businesses we placed a parklet in front of recorded their highest grossing sales for a single day. The parklet also showed how to generate vitality for the downtown and profit for businesses by creating friendly and welcoming places for people where there just had been parking before.

We did plenty of other interventions too, all of which are well documented in this YouTube video. Perhaps the greatest take-away from the Better Block Middlesborough event and the earlier Oyster Bay event is this – there is no better time than now to organize the people and resources to bring about change in your downtown. Don’t wait for an expensive study or plan. Just go out and make things better NOW! Start with something simple that you and a few volunteers can accomplish over a weekend. Then work up to bigger and better things from there.

There is a principle in the Better Block movement called “Blackmail Yourself.” Basically set a date and say you’re going to do something, so you can’t wiggle out of having to go ahead with doing it. To that point, Better Block Middlesborough will have a reprise on May 10, 2014. Those interested in being part of this exciting event firsthand and to see what it is all about, we welcome you. We have room for you!

You’ll have another chance to see and hear more about this exciting work during the National Main Street Conference in Detroit from May 18-21, 2014. Be sure to attend our workshop “Using Tactical Urbanism to Start Preserving Your Downtown Now!” We hope to use this workshop as an opportunity to help these ideas spread to Main Street communities throughout the country.

If you are unable to make it to either of these events, just give us a call at (606) 248-6155 or find us on Facebook or Twitter @DDMBoro. You can follow the progress of Better Block Middlesborough on Twitter @BetterBlockBoro.

Isaac D. Kremer is an economic development and historic preservation practitioner. As executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association on Long Island from 2008 to 2012, he restored over a dozen buildings. Now executive director of Discover Downtown Middlesboro in Kentucky, Kremer has been a strong advocate for tactical urbanism. Kremer is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Action. He lives in Middlesborough with his wife Chrissy and two boys Edward and Thomas in a 1920s Bungalow @1920Bungalow that they are lovingly restoring.

10 Networking Tips for the National Main Streets Conference

by Donna Ann Harris, CMSM

Networking

The National Main Street Conference will be held in Detroit, MI this year and there is plenty to learn from the towns that will be welcoming us from Michigan Main Street, Main Street Oakland County, and the hundreds of others that will join us in the Motor City. The thousand or more Main Street volunteers, vendors, executive directors/managers, consultants, speakers, state program coordinators and the National Main Street Center Board and staff will all be in Detroit to network, schmooze, and to swap stories.

Whether you are a new manager or an “old timer,” the conference is a great opportunity to learn from your peers and just remind yourself that “you are not alone” in your local downtown revitalization efforts.  Everyone that attends the conference, year in and year out, says that it is an uplifting and inspiring experience because of the stories told during conference sessions, in the hallways, at Big Bash, the Opening Reception, or with peers at a neighboring watering hole. The best thing about the conference is that you are surrounded by people who do exactly what you do–perhaps in another state or region of the country–but everyone shares similar frustrations, joys and determination to make their downtown better.

We’ve compiled some tips to make the most of networking during the conference. We focus on making contacts and getting to know new people who might provide insights and ideas that you can use when you return home.

1. Identify who you want to chat with in advance

Sign up and “like” the National Main Streets Conference on Facebook. You will get all the important information in your Facebook newsfeed.

Check the conference website for registration information, tour availability and other updates.

This year, the conference will have an official app. The app will contain session details and locations, photos, sponsors, maps and schedules, event twitter feeds, and lists of things to do in Detroit. QR codes will be available on signs and printed materials at the conference to download and use the app. It will also be posted on the National Main Streets Conference website closer to the date of the event.

Scan the Facebook posts regularly to find anything of interest before you arrive. Perhaps someone comments on an issue or idea that is similar to one you are struggling with right now. Find their contact info and ask to set a brief time to connect at the conference. For registered attendees, there will be a list of others attending. Go through the attendee list and circle people you specifically want to meet when you arrive. List these people on a card or on a reminder page of your smart phone, so you don’t forget who you want to deliberately “run into.”

2. Bring lots of business cards

You will need to bring a large stack of business cards to the conference. It is common practice to write notes to yourself on cards you receive so that you remember what you talked about, as this information might be handy in the future.  Consider bringing a good handful of your best promotional pieces to show and share with others.

3. Networking strategy for the Opening Reception

Use the opening reception to reconnect with old friends, but make sure you meet at least and handful of new people, and exchange business cards.  The opening reception is a good time to seek out specific people you want to meet, as it is the one of the few times during the conference that everyone is in one place.

4. Come early to the Opening Plenary Session

Another time when everyone is together is at the Opening Plenary Session, where you generally sit with your state delegation. It is a good idea to come early and scout out the people you want to meet, or make arrangements to meet and sit together during this inspiring session. Cheer on the Great American Main Street Award winners, and make plans for lunch with a new friend.

5. Reconnect with your colleagues at your State Dinner

Attend your State Dinner to reconnect with other Executive Directors in your state.  Make sure you meet any new manager/Executive Director and offer to introduce them to other managers you know. Hanging out with your state coordinating program staff for much of the conference can be fun, but make sure you meet new people too.   

6. Introduce yourself and chat up the Main Street Center staff

Make sure you introduce yourself to all the staff members of the National Main Street Center, including Patrice Frey, Carolyn Dellutri, Kathy LaPlante, Norma Miess, Steve Amraen, Rachel Bowdon, Hannah White and Deb Wise.  Some of these folks are new to Main Street, so they need to hear from the rank and file about your downtown triumphs and tragedies. Make sure to give them your card and tell them about your hopes for the new Center. Ask for advice about issues you are having or just brag about the great work you are doing. Don’t forget, bragging is an important part of networking too! See photos and brief bios of all the staff members here.

7. Talk to the New Board members of the Main Street Center

Likewise make sure you chat up Board member of the new Main Street Center, as they will be very interested in hearing from managers and volunteers too. NMSC Board members include:  Barbara G. Sidway, Chair of the Board; David J. Brown, Vice President of the NTHP; Samuel B. Dixon; Joe Grills; Irvin M. Henderson; Beppie LeGrand, State Coordinator for South Carolina and Mary Thompson. Learn more about each one of the new NMSC board members here.

8. Connect with speakers and panel members

Introduce yourself to speakers and panel members whose presentations you find particularly interesting or relevant.  Get their cards, share yours, describe issues relevant to their talk.  If you think someone has a particular perspective that would be helpful for you, ask if you can set a time to call them or follow up by email. Most speakers, you will find, are generous with their time, and want to hear about issues and concerns. They can steer you to other resource materials or people if they can’t help. The Crash Courses are meant to be short and informal learning opportunities, so definitely chat with speakers and other attendees at those sessions, especially people who ask questions that resonate with you and your town’s situation.

9. Chat up seat mates on tours

Tours are a great opportunity to meet new people and share ideas.  If you are on a bus, chat up your seat mate, as you might have a half an hour or more together on the bus to swap stories. Some tours may last a full day or a half day, where you will go and meet people who are showing off their great downtown projects. Speak up and ask questions of the volunteers showing you around, and swap cards.

10. Meet new people at Big Bash

Go to the Big Bash to meet new people.  While most Bash-goers will be intent on having a fun time with old friends, this is a great opportunity to meet new people, especially as you wait on line for beer or food. Be bold, sit with people you don’t know and ask about their programs and backgrounds.

Finally, have fun. The best part of the Main Street conference is finding new people who share the same passions as you and hearing about their successes and challenges. Come back refreshed and ready with a host of new ideas for your town.

Donna Ann Harris CMSM is the principal of Heritage Consulting Inc., a consulting firm based in Philadelphia that practices in downtown and commercial district revitalization, historic preservation, heritage tourism and nonprofit organizational development. She has spoken at the last eight Main Street conferences and will be conducting two sessions “Why Aren’t You Asking for Year End Gifts” and a Crash Course “Better Recruitment: Better Boards” both on Tuesday at the Main Street Conference in Detroit. Contact her at donna@heritageconsultinginc.com.