Nearly eight years ago, Marietta business and government leaders began exploring the idea of becoming a Main Street community.
That effort grew into ReStore Marietta, a group that works to beautify, support and promote the downtown area. Along the way, its other merchant groups have joined under its umbrella to focus energy and direction for such efforts.
Today, ReStore is on the cusp of finally receiving that coveted Main Street designation.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
ReStore Marietta executive director Mallory Greenham, left, speaks during the official opening of Gateway Park at the corner of Front and Butler streets Wednesday. The park area was cleaned, new planters installed and a sign listing Harmar merchants updated and moved with the help of volunteers, business donations and a $2,500 grant from Peoples Bank.
"I'm just so excited," said Jennifer Offenberger, who has been with ReStore since its earliest days. "It shows that we're making a difference, we're moving forward and our community will be able to reap the benefits of that effort."
ReStore members believe the group has met enough criteria to be approved for Main Street status. They expect to apply to Heritage Ohio, which administers the program at the state level, be assessed and have a decision sometime in December.
Established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation nearly 30 years ago as a framework to preserve both historic commercial architecture and areas that help define a community's identity, the Main Street program has also become an economic development tool. It focuses on the business and professional center of a community, usually the downtown area.
By the numbers
35 - Ohio Main Street communities from 2007 to 2011.
$433 million - Total money reinvested in improvements during that period.
424 - Net new businesses.
1,611 - Net new full-time jobs.
1,657 - Net new part-time jobs.
$8,059 - Total cost per new full-time job created.
269 - Business expansions.
389,879 - Volunteer hours donated.
$7.23 million - Value of volunteer hours donated.
Source: Heritage Ohio
"Everyone is impacted by our downtown, every business and every homeowner," Offenberger said.
Research has shown a vibrant downtown is a factor in drawing people and businesses to an area, which can result in increasing property values, which benefit governments and schools, she said.
What it means
Being identified as a Main Street community opens doors for a city in terms of tourism marketing, training and other opportunities, said Mallory Greenham, executive director of ReStore.
"At that point, we can use their name," Greenham said. "We could call ourselves 'Downtown Marietta and Historic Harmar Village, a Main Street community,'" she added, noting some travel groups offer and promote Main Street tours.
Jeff Siegler, director of revitalization for Heritage Ohio, said communities can get a boost on state grant applications for having a Main Street designation. It indicates the dedication to revitalization that Heritage Ohio looks for when deciding whether to award the title in the first place.
"I would love to see (ReStore) apply to the program and think they would be a really great fit," he said.
ReStore would be charged $7,000 for its initial year of membership and $4,000 a year after that. In exchange, ReStore's events would be featured on Heritage Ohio and the National Trust's websites, creating the potential to draw more people to activities like the Merchants and Artist Walks or Red, White and Blues Festival that already bring in folks from outside the immediate area. The group would also have expanded networking access to share ideas regionally and nationally, beyond what is available now, while it's considered an emerging member.
"You get a little taste of what it could be like," Greenham said.
ReStore representatives would receive significant discounts on training offered by Heritage Ohio and increased access to strategic planning services. Annual evaluations would help keep the organization on track with its goals and following the template outlined by the program.
The Main Street strategy consists of a four-point program - operations, focused on drawing together individuals and organizations with a stake in the downtown area; design, which involves improving the physical appearance of the area; marketing, which promotes the unique characteristics of the locale; and business enhancement, which includes helping existing businesses and recruiting new ones. ReStore already has a committee dedicated to each of those areas.
"Absolutely, if you follow them, you will have success," said Sandra Hull, executive director for Main Street Wooster, the state's oldest Main Street organization.
Wooster received its Main Street designation in 1987. Since that time there has been more than $140 million of public/private downtown reinvestment, including $41 million in infrastructure improvements, and downtown storefront vacancies have dropped from 42 percent to 6 percent in 2011, according to the group's Facebook page.
Hull said one reason the program works is that while it has been used around the country, it allows communities to address situations unique to them.
"You deal with the issues that you have but you also have a statewide organization that will help you with technical assistance," she said.
How to get there
Among the recent developments that have helped Main Street move closer from goal to reality are the hiring of a dedicated employee (Greenham, who moved from part-time to full-time status last year) and a promised contribution from the City of Marietta in the form of $10,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds.
"They haven't seen a Main Street program be successful without city and county support," Greenham said.
Marietta Mayor Joe Matthews said it was his suggestion to allocate funds to ReStore and he would like to see more down the road.
"I would hope sometime in the near future we could work them in with some of the bed (hotel occupancy) tax," he said. "I think they also contribute to bringing people to Marietta with some of the things they do."
Greenham said she's met with all three county commissioners about the possibility of ReStore receiving county funding in the upcoming year's budget as well.
Siegler said the road to Main Street would start with a Heritage Ohio staffer meeting with the local board of directors to make sure the organization has the "capacity to take advantage" and get the benefits of the services the state group has to offer.
Next, a selection committee made up of Heritage Ohio board members and representatives from other Main Street communities would be assembled to meet with the city and the ReStore board. Greenham said the committee will review ReStore's work plans and grade the organization on a point-by-point system in 10 categories, including broad-based community support, vision and mission statement and historic preservation ethic. A minimum annual budget of $65,000 is also required, with no more than 50 percent coming from any one source.
"We're sitting at $75,000," Greenham said.
ReStore is funded by its members, as well as revenue from events it holds, corporate sponsorships and charitable contributions.
The group is in the middle of its latest membership and fundraising drive now, but Greenham said there are usually about 50 members and they can be individuals, downtown businesses or corporate sponsors.