Unwavering Dedication to Historic Preservation and Collaboration Credited

CHICAGO, ILL., (May 6, 2024) – Main Street America announced today that Madison Main Street Program in Madison, Indiana, has received the prestigious Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA), which recognizes communities for their excellence in comprehensive preservation-based commercial district revitalization. The 2024 GAMSA honors, sponsored by The Hartford, were presented at the opening plenary for the Main Street Now Conference in Birmingham, Alabama.

Selected by a national jury of industry professionals and local leaders in the fields of economic development and historic preservation, Madison Main Street Program is being recognized for fostering a welcoming culture, celebrating historic preservation, and championing community collaboration.

“The success of the Madison Main Street Program is a strong testament to the classic Main Street model and sustainable change over time,” said Erin Barnes, President and CEO at Main Street America. “Their fearless dedication to nurturing historic preservation and tenacious drive to find creative solutions is unlocking the magic of Madison.”

Founded in 1979 as one of the nation’s first three pilot Main Street programs, Madison Main Street Program (MMSP) has leveraged their community’s unique assets to create a downtown district buzzing with historic character, local pride, and over 270 locally owned businesses. When MMSP began implementing the Main Street Approach™, downtown Madison faced many of the same problems impacting most rural Midwest towns in the late 1970s: the disappearance of residents and businesses due to urban sprawl. Over the past 40 years, MMSP leaders and partners have reversed this trend through community consensus and initiatives that balance historic preservation with forward-thinking ideas.

Madison Main Street Program’s commitment to historic preservation is visible through work plans that leverage partnerships with the community’s preservation organizations, historic sites, and local experts. For example, MMSP nurtures the safeguarding of historic structures through free preservation-based workshops and brings local history to life through their “This Place Matters” banners. Additionally, the organization’s Design Committee volunteers assist business owners with creating architecturally appropriate façades for their storefronts by researching and finding historic photos of their buildings.

One particularly notable example of MMSP’s dedication to future-focused historic preservation is the adaptive renovation of the historic Eagle Cotton Mill (b. 1884), an abandoned and blighted 72,000-square-foot building located at the downtown’s gateway. Despite attempts to rehabilitate the building, it sat vacant for 40 years. In 2019, city officials encouraged a new developer to re-envision the property as a hotel. MMSP worked with the developer to engage community members through meetings held at the mill. Additionally, the organization’s track record of creating a vibrant downtown district provided the project’s team with confidence to undertake and complete the $23 million investment.

“Madison Main Street Program isn’t just about revitalization: it’s about igniting possibilities and transforming aspirations into tangible realities for our community,” stated Austin Sims, Executive Director at Madison Main Street Program. “Our 40+ journey is marked by milestones and community spirit. While this recognition celebrates our past achievements, it is also just a glimpse into the journey ahead. The story of Madison is far from finished, and we are so excited to play our part!”

Madison Main Street Program’s steady and strategic approach to catalyzing downtown vibrancy has yielded incredible returns. In the past five years, for example, MMSP has successfully leveraged market data to recruit new businesses, such as a toy store, bakery, and home and accessories retailer. And over the past decade the organization’s biennial Loft Tour has successfully encouraged upper-story residential development and the creation of new commercial spaces through the renovation of vacant buildings. As a result, new residents—from young professionals to empty-nesters—are moving downtown.

Additionally, their signature Small Business Workshop program provides free education sessions to the district’s network of businesses. With support from German American Bank’s anchor downtown branch, business owners receive training on relevant and practical topics from peers and the bank’s financial experts. Through this partnership, MMSP leverages their relationship with supporters to achieve common goals of local small business success and sustainability. To date, the workshops have equipped over 150 attendees with tools, knowledge, and network-building necessary for managing thriving businesses.

The organization’s unofficial motto—“Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime.”—is a nod to MMSP’s commitment to foster a welcoming and inclusive revitalization movement. In 2023, MMSP created a Recruitment Task Force as a proactive approach to ensure that their Board of Directors, committee members, and volunteers reflect Madison’s diversity. Another example of MMSP’s dedication to creating a welcoming downtown began in 2019 through their support of the Rainbow River Club, a monthly social gathering for LGBTQ+ community members. As a result, downtown Madison’s reputation as a welcoming place has grown and the district’s LGBTQ+ community has expanded, with eight new LGBTQ+ owned businesses opening since 2018.

“Madison is the first Indiana Main Street community to earn the Great American Main Street Award in the last 25 years,” said Andrea Kern, Director of Strategic Initiatives and Indiana Main Street Coordinator at the Office of Community and Rural Affairs. “Madison Main Street is more than deserving of this recognition, with 40 years of proven success as well as pioneering the Main Street effort in Indiana and across the country.”

MMSP values partnership and finds that collaboration with other organizations amplifies their collective successes. From reimagining traffic patterns to reviewing designated outdoor refreshment areas, Main Street is “at the table” on all City projects that affect the downtown district. As a result, the City of Madison, Visit Madison, Madison Music Movement, the Madison Arts Alliance, Madison Chamber of Commerce, and many other groups and entities work in concert to support the downtown business district.

In 2021, MMSP’s reputation as a trusted and results-oriented organization led to the City of Madison asking the organization to assume management of the Madison Farmers Market—the oldest farmers market in the state. Recognizing the market’s crucial role as a gathering place for community members, economic engine for agricultural producers and downtown businesses, and source of fresh food for residents, MMSP stepped up to stabilize and preserve the farmers market. Over the past two years, MMSP has leveraged relationships with volunteers, sponsors, and a local church to breathe new life into the market. As a result, MMSP has safeguarded the farmers market as a keystone event that creates opportunities for the region’s diverse network of entrepreneurs and nurtures future generations of volunteers and local leaders.

The Great American Main Street Award program recognizes communities exemplifying the use of the Main Street Approach™ to revitalize commercial districts. Winners are selected from a nationwide pool of applicants by a jury of Main Street professionals and leaders in the fields of community and economic development and historic preservation. Since the award’s inception in 1995, over 110 Main Street programs have been honored as GAMSA communities. For more information, visit mainstreet.org/gamsa.

Main Street America leads a movement committed to strengthening communities through preservation-based economic development in older and historic downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. For more than 40 years, Main Street America has provided a practical, adaptable, and impactful framework for community-driven, comprehensive revitalization through the Main Street Approach™. Our network of more than 1,600 neighborhoods and communities, rural and urban, share both a commitment to place and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development. For more information, visit mainstreet.org.

Madison Main Street is a team of residents, business owners, property owners, and civic leaders working together to ensure that downtown Madison is a vibrant place to live, work, shop, dine, visit, and play. Madison’s Main Street commercial district is a vibrant community where people of all ages and lifestyles are choosing to live. History and heritage are revered, culture and the arts celebrated, historic preservation is a community commitment, and the National Historic Landmark District is a source of local pride. For more information, visit madisonmainstreet.com.

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