This column has been dedicated several times over the years—by my predecessors and me—to the important role that a downtown plays in a community and why preserving and revitalizing a downtown is a major priority. Still, there are those who feel that the downtown receives too much attention that should be focused elsewhere. It’s worthwhile, then, to repeat some important reasons why investment in a downtown is so important.
The downtown is the heart and soul of a community. When a downtown area of a city or town deteriorates, that community loses its core. Yes, suburbs pop up on the outskirts. Malls, shopping centers, and big-box stores establish themselves in surrounding areas. More often than not, however, these new business centers are copies of each other, with little if any individuality and personality. The feeling that you are an integral, important part of that environment is lost.
In the downtown, you can find the character, personality, and individuality that make each community unique. In the words of the National Main Street Center, the headquarters of all the Main Street districts throughout the country: “The Main Street movement grew out of a recognition that a community is only as strong as its core. In an era when many people had given up hope about the commercial and cultural viability of downtown, and when suburbs, shopping malls, and big-box retailers were dominating the American landscape, this seemed like an unlikely proposition. But, the practical frameworks outlined by the Main Street Approach, as well as the passion of the professionals and volunteers who make up the Main Street network, help pave the way for the renaissance of healthy, vibrant downtowns that we’re experiencing today.”
This trend hasn’t been lost on the consultants who are in charge of development. The JGSC Group, which has helped us work on projects and has supplied us valuable demographic data, used to supply these services to the malls. As malls began to dominate the scene at the expense of our downtowns, that organization saw that a change in direction was necessary to restore the balance and is now working with downtowns in their redevelopment efforts.
Some statistics will serve to show the tremendous effect that downtown revitalization has had on communities nationwide and Main Street’s role in this. Since 1980 to the end of last year, the total reinvestment in physical improvements from public and private sources amounted to $101.58 billion; the number of building rehabilitations numbered 325,119; the net gain in jobs numbered 746,897; and the net gain in businesses numbered 168,693. These figures show the power of economic development and reinvestment in downtowns within the Main Street framework. This has a ripple effect on the economic health of entire community, not just the downtown.
We in Main Street Vineland are moving ahead on a variety of projects in various stages of planning and development. All of them will have a profound impact on our downtown and on all of Vineland. So, in Vineland and elsewhere, as the downtown goes, so the community goes.