Downtown Project Assessment

One of the best ways to get started in revitalizing your historic or traditional commercial district is through an Assessment. The Assessment offers your community an objective analysis of the commercial district's strengths and weaknesses, evaluates the likelihood of launching a successful revitalization effort, and provides an achievable action outline for the immediate future.

The Assessment's objectives

The Assessment has four major objectives:

1. to identify some of the commercial district's major problems, opportunities and needs;

2. to provide community members with information about the Four-Point approach to commercial district revitalization;

3. to recommend a realistic, achievable course of action for the short term; and

4. to determine whether the Four-Point approach is an appropriate strategy for the district's revitalization.

How do you conduct the Assessment?

Each Assessment is tailored to the community's specific needs.

To prepare, provide some background information on your community and the status of its commercial district revitalization activities.

During the Assessment, meet with a broad range of constituents from both the public and private sectors; conduct confidential interviews with key players; speak with local media; and hold a public presentation or wrap-up meeting to outline observations and recommendations for immediate action.

After the Assessment, provide a written report summarizing your work on what would be most helpful for your community.

What to look for during the Assessment?

Before and during the Assessment, examine a number of characteristics of the commercial district in order to evaluate the district's health and to determine what the best strategy for its revitalization might be. Among the things for which to look-characteristics that suggest that the Main Street approach is likely to be successful in the community-are:

· A cohesive core of historic and/or traditional commercial buildings: First and foremost, the commercial district must have a cohesive core of historic and/or traditional commercial buildings.

· Evidence of broad-based community support: A broad range of organizations and individuals from throughout the community should be supportive of the revitalization effort.

· Support from both the public and private sectors: In order for revitalization of a traditional commercial district to succeed, it must have the support of both the public and private sectors, both of which have special skills and vantage points to bring to the
revitalization process.

· Likelihood of being able to secure financial support for the revitalization effort: Revitalization programs that rely on local financial resources are often more successful than those that depend on government grants or other outside sources of financial assistance. Being able to develop an effective, volunteer-driven fund-raising strategy for the commercial district's revitalization effort is key to its success.

· Market potential: Most commercial districts have several market opportunities that have not yet been pursued. Although it isn't possible to conduct a thorough analysis of the commercial district's market potential during the Assessment, we evaluate whether the market tide seems to be running with or against the district.

· Collaborative working style, with a history of volunteerism: The Four-Point Approach works best when it is shaped and implemented by the community itself, involving dozens-eventually hundreds-of volunteers.

Expressed desire for change and a willingness to take risks: The Main Street approach to commercial district revitalization is both revolutionary and evolutionary. A community unwilling to take risks will most likely continue on its present course.

It's not likely that any commercial district will be strong in all these areas, of course-these are strengths that are built over time, as the revitalization effort gradually improves its capacity to tackle tough issues. During the Assessment, a list of suggestions can be generated to implement ways in which the revitalization effort can become stronger.

What does an Assessment cost?

Communities have funded their Four-Point Assessments in a number of ways. In some instances, the entire cost is covered by local government, either through a direct appropriation or with Community Development Block Grant funds or other special allocations. In others, the organization or agency coordinating the Assessment raises funds from a group of 5-10 businesses, organizations and agencies interested in the downtown's economic health and revitalization. Some of the most frequent investors include:

· financial institutions and investment companies
· local industries
· Chambers of Commerce
· industrial and economic development corporations
· city and county government
· community development corporations
· housing authorities
· regional planning agencies
· newspapers and other news media
· merchants' associations
· civic associations
· community foundations
· special assessment districts
· key business and property owners and other individual contributors
· tourism organizations
· colleges and universities

What happens after the Assessment?

During some Assessments, it might be found that a community is ready to move ahead right now with a full-blown commercial district revitalization effort. In other instances, it might be found that the community isn't yet ready for an intensive effort, but that there are some important activities it can pursue in order to become ready. And, sometimes it might be found that a community's own efforts are quite successful as they are and that the community doesn't actually need much ongoing assistance.

During the Assessment, carefully consider the specific activities which can best assist in the district's revitalization efforts, as well as to make recommendations for other sources of assistance.