EMMETT As Mayor Bill Butticci walks down Main Street in his hometown, he has a vivid memory of what was there five years ago. Cracked sidewalks. Over-grown trees masking some of the historic buildings. Spiders and cobwebs on buildings. Potholes in the street.
Pretty dirty, he said.
You could drive through and you didnt want to stop, said Cheryl Conrad, co-owner for 16 years of Antiques N Things, at 204 W. Main St. There was no life to downtown.
Todays Main Street looks much different. After nearly $1 million in renovations paid for with stimulus money and federal grants parts of East and West Main are resurfaced. There are new sidewalks and spruced-up trees.
Downtown Emmett has a manicured look that makes many historic buildings some a century old pop. Emmett also has a volunteer revitalization committee under the mayor that assesses businesses and raises money to beam Wi-Fi downtown, keep trash off the streets and clean the building exteriors.
The story is similar in Nampa, which has worked on upgrading its downtown since 2006 with programs such as sharing the cost with building owners to restore the facades of historic structures.
But the work isnt done for either place.
NEW ECONOMIC IDEAS
Emmett, which has seen its mills close and hundreds of jobs leave, wants to transform itself into a tourist attraction where people will come for the small-town atmosphere, Butticci said.
Conrad, Butticci and others want more ideas and training on how to better focus their energies to make the most of marketing and promotion, and a repository to help them find other opportunities for building on the revitalization they have begun.
The Idaho Department of Commerce might help them get that chance.
Last month, the department announced that it is forming an alliance with the National Main Street Center, a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which helps communities pump new life into their historic downtowns and improve economic development. The state is paying for personnel to help launch and direct the program on a statewide basis, and to put $5,000 grants in planning for communities.
The agreement will give Idaho a portal for communities to join the Main Street program, which provides training and assistance in developing a four-point program.
Its a communitywide develop program that works on quality of life, improving the business climate in the community, and marketing and promoting the downtown area, said Kathy La Plante, senior program officer with Main Street, on a recent stop in Nampa.
BUILDING THE FUTURE FOR SMALL CITIES
More than 2,200 communities carry the Main Street designation nationally. The program has coordinating agreements, similar to Idahos proposed agreement, with 41 states, five urban communities and two county programs.
Communities range in size from a population of less than 500 to urban centers such as Portland, Ore., and Boston, where Main Street works in neighborhoods.
We at the state (level) are very excited about adopting the Main Street program. Supporting our communities in their efforts to improve their future is a critical priority to us, said Jeff Sayer, commerce director.
Gloria Mabutt, who has worked for three decades at the Department of Commerce, is interim executive director for Idahos Main Street program.
Main Street, which began in 1977, isnt a handout. Cities set their own visions and raise their own money to implement them.
Its a template, a menu that has proven to be successful, said Sheri Freemuth, senior field officer with the National Trusts Boise office.
When Tracy Volpi first moved to Nampa a decade ago, she never went downtown. There was no reason to, she said.
But as efforts to create a people-centered district took hold, she decided to open her restaurant, Simple Sushi, at 1214 1st St. S. about a year ago. We felt it was a good location, she said.
Many businessess believe that the Main Street program can help them move on down the redevelopment road.
Darlene Johnson, who has owned Darlenes Printing in downtown Nampa for 18 years, wants more work done on filling empty stores. Shed like to see more little shops or restaurants like Boise Fry Co. But she and other merchants dont have time to study all the issues to keep moving downtown forward on their own.
We are just trying to run our businesses, she said.
STAFFING HELPS PROGRAMS EXPAND
Part of Main Street calls for a paid executive director to oversee the program, but that job, along with other development plans, requires money.
Nampa merchants estimated that they would need $100,000 to $160,000 annually to run a downtown revitalization program.
Some of that could come from the existing Business Improvement District. Other funds could come from major employers in the region, fundraising events and possibly the city, said Beth Ineck, Nampa assistant economic development director.
Back in Emmett, Deborah Rouwenhorst, the chair of the mayors revitalization committee, remembers the city looking at joining Main Street a few years ago, but it couldnt because the state didnt have an agreement with the program. With that impediment all but gone, she sees a lot of advantages for the city to jump on the Main Street parade. Shed like to see more events, or a place where people could ride their bikes.
She sees Main Street as a tool to help the community get more ideas.
What else is available out there? she asked.
Bill Roberts 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts