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Mayor wants to improve Downtown Brazil

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

The national Main Street Program is a proven winner. Since 1986, Main Street communities achieved:

- more than $1 billion in public and private investment

- more than 10,000 new jobs

- more than 1,250 new businesses

- more than 2,600 facade and building rehabilitations

For every $1 spent to operate a Main Street program, on average, $40.35 has been reinvested in the community.

It costs nothing for a community to sign up for the program. However, there is organization expense. Those costs are usually paid by public (government) funds, the downtown business members and fund-raising events.

"Eighteen hundred communities in 43 states have developed the Main Street approach," Mark McConaghy told a few dozen members of the community gathered in the Riddell National Bank Community Room Monday afternoon. McConaghy is the Indiana Main Street director. Jenelle Collins, assistant director, accompanied him to Brazil.

The two explained what Main Street is and what it can do for Brazil's downtown.

"The purpose is to improve all aspects of the downtown," McConaghy said.

The program is not step-by-step recommendations as much as a set of proven tools that other communities have used to revitalize their downtowns.

For example, take economic restructuring, one point of the four-point approach the program suggests. Main Street recommends identifying buildings, the businesses occupying them (unless vacant) and the owners; find new uses for vacant buildings; and helping owners market buildings.

The other three points of the Main Street approach are attention to building design, organization of a downtown group and promoting the downtown -- "working with businesses to bring people downtown," explained McConaghy.

Indiana Main Street is a program offered by the Indiana Department of Commerce.

The national program began in 1977 with three pilot projects in midwestern cities: Madison, Ind., Galesburg, Ill., and Hot Springs, S.D.

The need resulted from "big box" stores that attracted shoppers away from downtowns, McConaghy said.

"Many times, people think of Wal-Mart when you say 'big box'," McConaghy said. "But Wal-Mart was just the straw that broke the camel's back. There were also K-mart and many other chain stores."

McConaghy related his childhood to today.

"When I was a boy, we put on our suits and the family drove downtown to shop," he said. "My boys probably never shop downtown."

To emphasize the change, McConaghy showed a slide of downtown Franklin, Ind., taken in the 1920s. The picture showed people crowding the sidewalks with many more in automobiles, trying to find a place to park. A casual visit to Franklin, Ind., or most other city downtowns today, is a very much different scene with few people and, often, fewer businesses.

What next, if the community decides to enroll in the Indiana Main Street program?

Collins said an ad hoc committee should do their homework about their downtown, develop a fact sheet concerning downtown, visit other Main Street communities and sell others on the idea.

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The mayor says ...

Mayor Tom Arthur invited McConaghy and Collins to Brazil. Following their presentation, he had a few comments.

Arthur listed assets and threats to Brazil's downtown.

Assets on his list included the fact that in 1997 a portion of downtown was listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and that Brazil's downtown is home to an old-fashioned butcher shop, a pharmacy/old-fashioned soda shop, banks and other businesses.

Threats include the current condition of the Davis Building on the corner of National Ave. and Meridian St., the old First National Bank & Trust building and the current condition of downtown sidewalks and curbs.

He praised the 1995 downtown revitalization plan that was prepared while Mayor Kenny Crabb was in office.

"We have an awesome opportunity with the planned reconstruction of U.S. 40 through Brazil," Arthur said.

The downtown area could be beautified with period street lights and other amenities purchased with 80/20 grants. The city would have to pay 20 cents on each dollar spent and the grant would pay for 80 cents.

"The Main Street Program is not to take away from what other groups are doing, but to be in addition to what they are doing," Arthur said.

Arthur was thinking of the many other groups and organizations at work to improve Brazil and Clay County, including 4community, Clay County Economic Development Organization, the Forest-Meridian Historic District and the Clay County Historical Society, to name a few, he said after the meeting.



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