7. Main Street Revitalization Fact Sheet

7. Main Street
Fact Sheet
Many towns in the Hartford region have old town centers in varying
degrees of economic health. While some are attractive and popular
places, other town centers have been plagued with vacant storefronts
and disinvestment.
Why Have So Many Main Street Areas Become Run Down?
Traditional Main Street areas throughout the Hartford region have had
a difficult time competing with auto-oriented commercial development
in suburban areas. Strip-style commercial corridors, regional shopping malls, and big-box "power centers" are successful for many reasons. They have recognizable chain stores, large-scale shopping formats that provide a wide selection of goods, drive-through services,
large movie theaters, large family restaurants, and most importantly,
abundant parking and easy access for vehicles.
By way of comparison, Main Street areas tend to offer unique and
small-format spaces, which are generally unappealing to modern-day
chain retailers, and they tend to be constrained in terms of parking
and vehicular access. Most people living in the Hartford region nowadays are auto-dependent, and they tend to do their shopping in locations with the best automobile access and parking.
This smart growth tool can be
used in urban, suburban, and
rural communities.
Why Re-invest in Main Street?
If suburban commercial sites are so successful, why should local
municipality spend time and money attempting to revitalize the old
town center? Many Main Street areas still have numerous businesses, residents, and employees, all of whom would directly benefit from
improvements to the area. The town as a whole would benefit from
the increased tax revenues from a revitalized commercial area. Most
importantly, a Main Street area is usually the historical, cultural, civic
and geographic center of the community, and improvements to the
town center can bolster the town's pride, image, and residential property values.
From a "smart growth" perspective, town centers are "sustainable"
growth centers. With higher-density development and a mix of commercial and residential uses, town centers provide a greater variety of
housing types and more opportunities for walking, biking, and transit
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use. They are an alternative to the forces that fuel low-density suburban sprawl. A revitalized town center can attract new investment that
adheres to a compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented format.
There has never been a better time to engage in economic revitalization efforts in historic town centers. Old Main Streets are being revitalized nationwide, and some modern retailers see old Main Street
areas as the “new frontier” of retailing. Oriented to pedestrians and
specialty shopping, these businesses capitalize on the character
value and foot traffic of Main Street. They
tap into the market that seeks an alternative to mall shopping.
What Are the Chances of Success?
Many communities have been able to
turn around their traditional Main Street
areas. Downtown West Hartford, which
initially could not compete with the West Farms Mall, managed to
renew itself through a multi-faceted revitalization program. West
Hartford has been successful because it has managed to build off
of the unique attributes that distinguish it from suburban commercial
sites: historic architecture, a traditional "Main Street" ambiance, a
safe and pleasant walking environment, and unique non-chain
stores. Importantly, West Hartford Center has a unique parking
scheme that makes access convenient. Similar initiatives are currently being undertaken in Windsor Center and Downtown Rockville
(Town of Vernon).
Economic Development for Main Street Shops. A market
niche for Main Street stores needs to be identified and built
upon. A “market niche” is a collection of stores, services,
restaurants, and attractions that follow a theme and appeal to
a segment of a potential customer base. Through an identifiable market niche, the Main Street area can become known
and marketed based on a certain type of shopping, service, or
experience. If a Main Street area is undergoing intense competition from an adjacent commercial strip or shopping mall,
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The key to economic development
for a Main Street is to identify and
develop a market niche. Easton, PA
could not compete with strip commercial areas and the Phillipsburg Mall.
But with new cultural anchors, historic
preservation, and pedestrian-friendly
design, it has become a specialty
shopping destination for the region.
(Source: APPS, Inc.).
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Low-cost facade and signage
improvements can go a long way
toward creating an upscale
ambiance. These before and after
photographs from Corning, NY
show what a remarkable transformation can be achieved. (Source:
Norman Mintz, who was the Main
Street manager for Corning).
the market niche should intentionally provide a different selection of stores and merchandise that cannot be found in those
conventional suburban locations. By providing unique, eclectic,
non-chain stores, Main Street can become an refreshing alternative to standard suburban shopping
Cultural Attractions. Libraries, museums, concert halls, theaters, and other similar facilities provide unique cultural experiences. Such cultural institutions can serve as magnets for a
town center. People who patronize them can be enticed to visit
nearby shops and restaurants. To be effective, cultural attractions should be located and designed in such a way that they
encourage their patrons to explore the town center on foot.
Coordinated Parking. Many of the sites in a traditional town
center lack on-site parking lots or have only a handful of private
spaces. In many cases, the private parking lots and spaces are
inefficiently laid out and used, and better coordination could
yield more spaces and better serve customers. Shared parking
agreements between adjacent uses, or preferably, the creation
of a parking management district can help coordinate parking
and make parking more convenient for the town center as a
whole. (See Chapter 8 for more information on shared parking
and parking management districts).
Improvements to Streets and Public Spaces. Decorative
paving, antique street lighting, street trees, benches, landscaping, coordinated street furniture (bike racks, trash receptacles,
traffic lights, news stands, kiosks), flags, and banners can all
be used to make sidewalks and plazas look and feel more
safe, attractive, and lively. Plazas could also provide an opportunity for the siting of public art, fountains, or other similar features that provide visual interest and create a sense of place.
Park Improvements. Small parks in or around Main Street
provide places for visitors to rest in the middle of a shopping
trip, as well as place for outdoor craft fairs, art shows, farmers’
markets, or other events. Visually, parks balance out the builtup character of the rest of the town center. Park improvements
(focusing on pedestrian access, overall maintenance, and
landscaping) can improve the image of the town center and
draw more visitors.
Façade Improvement Program. Façade improvements can
help create a more inviting look that entices people to explore
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the shops and attractions along Main Street. A façade improvement program can provide grants and tax incentives to promote façade cleaning, door and window replacement and
repair, enlarged windows, compliance with the Americans with
Disabilities Act, and installation of awnings and planters.
Keys to Success
Appeal to tourists, artists, and students. Tourists include
local residents who want a fun shopping experience, as well as
out-of-towners. Tourists seek out places with character, charm
and authenticity. Artists and students typically seek out alternatives to what they consider "boring" suburban commercial
shopping experiences. Such demographic groups are usually
more interested and willing to explore non-chain specialty
stores and restaurants in a pedestrian-friendly, historic environment. They also create a new image for the center as a
Adopt contextual zoning provisions. Many town centers
have a compact, mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented pattern of
development. Buildings line the sidewalks along Main Street,
with shops, restaurants, and civic uses on the ground level,
and offices or residences on the upper floors. On the surrounding side streets, there may be a mix of stores, offices,
apartments, houses, and parks, all built in a compact, walkable
format. Land use and bulk regulations in the zoning code
should be tailored to the town center environment, such that
new buildings fit into the traditional context.
Prohibit auto-oriented uses and development patterns. If
auto-oriented uses or development patterns are encroaching
upon the traditional Main Street area, such uses should be
explicitly prohibited. This suggests that gas stations, car washes, car sales lots, drive-through banks and restaurants, and
other similar uses should be prohibited. In addition, front-yard
parking and large free-standing signs often associated with
such uses would be out of character with the rest of the town
center and should be prohibited along Main Street and adjacent side streets.
Adopt zoning requirements for pedestrian-friendly
design. The facades and front-yards of buildings facing those
sidewalks and plazas must be pedestrian-friendly. Display win-
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Streetscape improvements can improve the
walkability as well as the ambiance of a Main
Street area. Chapel Street in New Haven, CT
has been transformed into a popular destination for Yale students, downtown workers,
and local residents. (Source: Project for
Public Spaces, Inc.)
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dows should provide visual interest and views into stores;
entryways should be so oriented that they allow pedestrians to
enter the building from the sidewalk; awnings should provide
cover from inclement weather. Parking should not be located in
the front yard, and space in front of the store window could be
given over to outdoor dining or landscaping.
Promote higher-density housing and professional
offices along and around Main Street. Housing and professional offices clustered along and around Main Street creates a local market for shops and restaurants. In addition, such
clustered development would fit into the higher-density setting
of downtown, adding to the character and charm of the area.
Promote historic preservation. Town centers are often full
of historic buildings, many of which have distinctive architectural features, such as decorative masonry, stained glass windows, carved doorways or window frames, and so on. The historic character of an old town center is one of its greatest economic assets, as it distinguishes the town center from a suburban commercial site, creating a unique experience. Buildings
that are historically or architecturally significant should be preserved and restored.
Establish a Special Services District or a Main Street
Program. A Special Services District (SSD) can provide practical services, like trash collection and disposal and security, on
a day to day basis. As importantly, the SSD can provide planning and coordinating functions. It can solicit new business and
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development; market and advertise Main Street shops; and
organize special events. A Main Street program could serve
similar functions, although Main Street programs also are likely to become more involved with efforts for historic preservation, façade and streetscape improvements, and
architectural review as well.
Improve traffic management. Old town centers
may be plagued with traffic, but road-widening could
actually rob the Main Street area of some of its
charm. The quaint historic character of Main Street is
not just an aesthetic nicety; it helps attract customers.
Road widening or the removal of on-street parking
spaces could also compromise pedestrian comfort
and safety. As an alternative to road widening, traffic
management techniques could be used, such as
diversion of traffic onto parallel streets, diversion of
incoming cars into "interceptor" parking lots on the
edges of the town center, improved signalization,
establishment of turn pockets, and curb-cut consolidation.
Pursue "Village District" designation. With the
creation of a "Village District", pursuant to the State's
1998 legislation, a town is able to "protect the distinctive character, landscape, and historic structures"
within the district. According to the regulations, new development within a district is required to be "harmoniously related to
their surroundings, and the terrain in the district, and to the use,
scale, and architecture of existing buildings in the district." Also,
"all applications for new construction and substantial reconstruction … shall be subject to review and recommendation by
an architect or architectural firm, landscape architect, or planner."1 With its requirement for architectural review, the "Village
District" designation is a useful tool or better regulating the aesthetics of an old Main Street area.
Stamford’s SSD has led
efforts to create a restaurant and entertainment
destination in downtown.
(Source: Stamford SSD)
1 Connecticut General Statutes, § 8-2.
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How Can the State Help?
Develop tourism in the Hartford region. Specialty shopping and restaurants are the most obvious candidates for market niches in a town center, but such uses have a limited market potential without tourists. The State should work with local
government to promote tourism throughout the region. Within
driving distance of two major metropolitan centers — New York
City and Boston — the natural beauty, historic character, and
cultural and recreational opportunities of the Hartford area
could draw daytrippers and weekenders. Planned and proposed projects in the hartford region, such as Adrian's’
Landing, Rentschler Field, and the Hartford-Springfield historic
corridor, provide new opportunities to draw visitors. Traditional
Main Street areas could then tap into this tourism market.
Tailor highway standards to the traditional Main Street
environment. Many rural villages, such as historic Suffield,
have State highways running through their Main Street areas.
The State Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) should
consider allowing narrower road widths, sharper turning radii,
and traffic calming devices in a village environment. Under
ISTEA and TEA-21 legislation, the federal government strongly supports initiatives for multi-modal transportation and pedestrian and bicycle improvements. Protecting the pedestrian environment in a town center through flexible roadways standards
would be consistent with the spirit of federal legislation.
Facilitate Joint establishment of SSDs and Village
Districts. Although SSDs and Village Districts serve slightly
different ends, they are related. SSDs and Village Districts
could be jointly established, so that their boundaries are the
same, and efforts are coordinated. Improvements undertaken
by the SSD should be compatible with design regulations
adopted by the local municipalities, and vice versa, design regulations should reflect the intentions that business leaders
have for the area. The SSD should closely be involved in the
process of determining the design regulations and procedures
to be adopted.
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For More Information
Connecticut Main Street Center, Hartford, CT. Phone: (860)
280-2337, <www.ctmainstreet.org>.
Congress for the New Urbanism, San Francisco, CA. Phone:
(415) 495-2255, <www.cnu.org>.
National Main Street Center, National Trust for Historic
Preservation, Washington, DC. Phone: (202) 588-6219,
New Hampshire Main Street Center, Concord, NH. Phone:
(603) 223-9942, <www.nhcdfa.org/mainstreet.html>.
Project for Public Spaces, New York, NY. Phone: (212) 6205660, <www.pps.org>.
See also, Detailed Technical Analysis on Main Street Revitalization,
available through CRCOG.
Prepared by Abeles Phillips Preiss & Shapiro, Inc., 2002.
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