Main Street: Lincoln's 'mall manager'
By Wendy Bell
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[APRIL 22, 2006]
When our family moved to Lincoln almost nine
years ago, we chose the community for lots of reasons: good schools,
a variety of events and organizations to participate in, and a
downtown that wasn't dead. At the time, I didn't know there was an
underlying reason for the downtown's distinctive personality. It was
two years later, when I was hired as Main Street Lincoln's executive
director, that I learned about the comprehensive downtown
revitalization strategy known as the
The approach is much like the tactics taken by a shopping mall
White Oaks in Springfield, Hickory Point in Decatur and
malls across the country all have a manager and staff that look out
for the best interests of the businesses enclosed in the building.
The manager makes sure the parking lot is well-lit, the area feels
safe, the building is attractive and maintained, there is an area to
walk, places to rest, sufficient trash cans, and green space. This
is the same focus for Main Street's design committee.
Mall staff also plan special events around the holidays, bring in
a craft show to attract additional shoppers to the mall, work with
business owners to coordinate mallwide sales and create advertising
to promote an image of the mall as a great place to visit. Main
Street's promotion committee is charged with the same
Mall owners are concerned about the business mix, filling the
stores when they are empty, helping to strengthen and stabilize
existing businesses, learning who their competition is and where
their shoppers come from. The economic restructuring committee works
on similar challenges.
The mall is privately owned and collects rent from all of its
tenants to support the aforementioned efforts. However, buildings in
downtown are owned individually, and Main Street cannot collect
rent. So the organization committee works on fundraisers; asks
businesses, property owners and residents to join the partnership
campaign; and recruits volunteers to help with the projects.
Main Street focuses on a specific area, just like the mall
managers do. No one would ever question the need for a mall manager.
Does Lincoln's downtown deserve any less?
Main Street is the downtown "mall" manager. And because of Main
Street Lincoln's efforts over the last dozen years, the city of
Lincoln has enjoyed a stronger property tax base and increased sales
tax collection in the downtown. The money from those taxes goes to
pay for police and fire protection for the whole city, street
improvements for all of Lincoln, city staff salaries and many other
items in the city of Lincoln's budget. In addition, a managed
downtown means protection and enhancement of the area's unique
assets, protection of municipal property investment and a better
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Consequently, Illinois Main Street requires that the municipality
make a financial contribution to the local Main Street program.
Cities with a population of 10,000 to 20,000 currently allocate an
average of $25,783.
I don't remember downtown Lincoln before many downtown buildings
had facade renovations and the historic streetlights were installed,
but many of you reading this probably do. I do remember decorating
those streetlights for Christmas along with the National Honor
Society and city street department, digging the dirt out of the
Scully Park fountain with my family and many Main Street volunteers,
and scores of other Main Street Lincoln projects.
And I do know that since 1994, the downtown building vacancy rate
has dropped from 12 percent to 5. I do know that more than $3
million has been reinvested by private property owners in downtown,
and more than 11,360 hours have been logged by volunteers for Main
Street Lincoln. I know that Lincoln is one of 62 selected Main
Street communities in Illinois, and I know the Main Street program
is working successfully in more than 40 states nationwide. Finally,
I know that downtown Lincoln is one of 20 courthouse square historic
districts on the National Register and that it's worth your support
and the city's support.
I left Main Street Lincoln for a state staff position with
Illinois Main Street in 2002. Now, as the state program coordinator,
I've traveled many highways and byways in Illinois and visited towns
that are and are not part of the Main Street program. I can tell you
it's not "easy street" anywhere, but where there is a Main Street
program the downtown is viable and has vibrant elements, attracts
residents and tourists, and still serves as the heart of the
community. And that's the reason "why the city is funding Main
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