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Revitalizing Main Street

Pat Patera

Gardnerville is the latest rural town in Nevada to jump on the redevelopment bandwagon that’s rumbling along Main Street.

Merchants and residents recently turned out to learn about the National Main Street Program. Out of the 30 who attended, 25 said they might be interested in becoming board members, says Tim Rubald of Rubald and Associates.

He presented the idea along with Jim Parks, Gardnerville town manager, and Joe Locurto, director of rural economic development at Nevada Commission on Economic Development.

The program would generate a return of $25 to $40 for every dollar invested, says Parks, citing statistics from the national program.

The plan is based on a four-point matrix: organization, design, promotion, and economic restructuring, which ensures a managed mix of retail. Each requires a committee of volunteers.

“The next step,” says Rubald, “is to form a board and hire a director.” Gardnerville’s town board allocated $25,000 funding for the program’s first year.

But it’s not just about revamping the look of downtown, says Locurto. It requires working with small business owners, and promoting the effort through the chamber of commerce. “It’s about making it a place to shop and share experiences.”

While traveling the state, Locurto has taken note of other towns that turned proactive on Main Street.

“Hawthorne has done a good job both district wise and with branding,” he says.

As has Fallon.

Last year Fallon hired Project for Public Spaces to help it tie in all assets of a community.

“It’s an ongoing effort,” says Eric Grimes, executive director of Churchill Economic Development Authority, because some of their ideas were substantial.

The community, however, knew what it wanted downtown: A variety of boutique shops and walkability.

Since implementing the program, says Grimes, “People have taken it upon themselves to restore and remodel buildings. Most of empty spaces are now filled and people are walking downtown at night.”

And all summer long, he adds, “The weekly farmers market is packed wall to wall with people.”

Fallon’s Main Street revitalization project is roughly nine blocks long and five blocks wide.

Other communities are asking Nevada Commission on Economic Development about the program, says Locurto. And they’re asking about available funding.

“Due to state budget cuts, there’s not a lot of funding available there,” he says. However, local development authorities can still apply for grants. He also steers towns to Nevada Department of Transportation for help with street enhancements such as curb and gutter work.

Lovelock points to the success of its Main Street efforts as well.

With a downtown just three blocks long, the challenge was how to get motorists to drop off Interstate 80 and stop in town, says Kristen Hertz, operations manager at Greater Pershing Partnership.

Some years ago, Lovelock added lampposts and benches, but the next step, she says, is to focus on recruitment efforts to fill vacant shops.

The tourist traffic is in place since Lovelock created its Lock Your Love program. The campaign generated tons of publicity and tourists come from all over the world to buy a padlock, engrave it with their names, and snap it onto the bollard and chain at Lovers Lock Plaza.

Gardnerville, however, has the opposite traffic problem: Too many cars racing through town on Highway 395. A planned bypass, Muller Lane Parkway, will alleviate heavy traffic on Highway 395 but not for about 10 years, says Park. While right-of-way and developer agreements are in place, the housing slowdown has put the brakes on paving some parts that would also serve residential projects.

National Main Street program was developed by the national Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the 1980s.

Nevada is only one of four states that don’t have a state or regional coordinating committee for the National Main Street program, says Locurto.

Since the Main Street program began 20 years ago, over 2,000 communities have used the program.