Citizen Driven Main Street

October 4, 2020

After speaking to some residents today I realized that many people don’t understand how truly citizen-driven the Brooksville Main Street program is and how they can get involved. It seems an obvious thing to those of us intimately involved in the various components of the program, so I hadn’t realized that this needs to be stressed. We need to be clear that this is not a top-down driven organization, and it is not designed to be - and it will not work well if it is run that way. Apparently we haven’t been clear enough that everyone’s input is welcome and even desired, and that every part of BMS is eager for more volunteers - and that we are not just looking for one-time workers, but committee members who will generate ideas and follow up on them for the long term. I think it’s time to change that perception.

While the Executive Director of BMS, Natalie Kahler is the face you will see representing BMS the most at meetings, and Marketing Coordinator, Tina Marie is ubiquitous on social media, both have been hired to facilitate the goals of the four all-volunteer committees, which are fundamental to the Main Street program. These committees each focus on a specific part of redevelopment strategies and they are the ones who decide what projects to focus on, what events to put together, evaluate downtown’s needs, make short and long term goals, and determine how best to reach their goals. BMS is proud that they have committee members representing varied professions, ages, and skills and that come from both long time Brooksville families and new residents. Hopefully BMS will continue to add more and varied voices in the next year as well.

We plan to tell a bit about the individuals that coordinate these committees in future Voice posts, but here I will give a short run down of how Main Street and the committees are set up. As mentioned before, Brooksville Vision Foundation did not invent the Main Street program; rather, they joined an already established program that is both tried and tested in communities throughout the US. The National Main Street program began back in 1980 solely to help historic downtowns who were suffering from competition from malls and suburban development. Its success has been so great that in Florida, the Florida Main Street program is part of a state government funded program run by the Florida Department of State. Florida Main Street certifies applicants to the program, provides training and start-up grants, and has full time staff on board that is available for consultation and training, as well as reviewing quarterly reports in order to remain informed about how BMS is doing. To be certified, the Brooksville Vision Foundation had to submit an application meeting certain criteria, along with a commitment of support from local government. 

The National Main Street program has evolved over its 40 year existence as they’ve learned from both successes and failures. It provides a framework for revitalization that is not a set formula, but a way for a community to determine what makes it unique and how best to preserve that uniqueness while allowing it to realize its full potential. The program is a long term process that is entirely community driven and benefits from a network of other communities' experiences. The goal of a Main Street program is not to copy another community, but rather to use their experiences to generate ideas and adapt them in ways that keep Brooksville authentic. Many of the most interesting and thriving small towns in Florida have local Main Street programs that have been in place for years. Our thought is that if it can happen there, it can happen in Brooksville, too. But we also recognize that it is a long term commitment that won’t transform things overnight. 

The concept for Main Street programs uses what they call Transformation Strategies that are implemented through comprehensive work in four broad areas, known as the Four Points, which then form the basis of the four working committees. They are:

  • ECONOMIC VITALITY focuses on capital, incentives, and other economic and financial tools to assist new and existing businesses, catalyze property development, and create a supportive environment for entrepreneurs and innovators that drive local economies.
  • DESIGN supports a community’s transformation by enhancing the physical and visual assets that set the commercial district apart.
  • PROMOTION positions the downtown or commercial district as the center of the community and hub of economic activity, while creating a positive image that showcases a community’s unique characteristics.
  • ORGANIZATION involves creating a strong foundation for a sustainable revitalization effort, including cultivating partnerships, community involvement, and resources for the district.

Each of these four committees has a coordinating chair and volunteers that meet regularly to generate ideas and move them forward. As the committee members are all volunteers, many with full time work obligations, the committees rely on the Executive Director to coordinate the ideas between committees, promote them locally and act as taskmaster (and way too often as a task doer). As anyone that has served in a volunteer organization knows, ideas are plentiful, but implementation can be difficult and often burns out the few “doer” volunteers. Having the right Executive Director to act as a facilitator and cheerleader is essential to the success of a volunteer run non-profit. Some committees, such as the Promotions Committee, which creates downtown events, require a tremendous amount of support both in terms of volunteer hours and staff time. Others, such as Economic Vitality, plan more behind the scenes type projects that need focus to stay on track with lots of research hours. In each case, the committees decide on the work to be done.

With that said, BMS always needs more people to add a diverse perspective and to help implement the large volume of work to be done. There is work for introverts, and for extroverts, for creatives and for researchers, for old and young, and anyone in between. The only thing we ask is that you believe that Brooksville has a vast amount of unrealized potential just waiting to emerge with the right urging. And I guess we would ask a second thing as well: don’t plan to throw out ideas for others to do - you have to be willing to follow through as part of your commitment. Saying “someone should do something about X,Y, Z” without follow through is not enough. You have to commit to being part of a team that will try to actively implement the ideas, knowing that not every problem has a simple solution and some may require some serious persistence. 

So back to the main point: BMS is truly a group run by citizens and wants to grow and expand its input. And it is a program that welcomes new volunteers who can bring new ideas and new energy to any of the four committees. For anyone that says, “Brooksville Main Street should do X,Y, Z”, we offer a platform and the support to help get it done!

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