As with many items that come across the dais of the Leesburg Town Council, the proposal to join the Main Street program to boost the downtown isn’t a new one.
By the time Town Manager Kaj Dentler proposed the initiative as part of his fiscal year 2018 budget package last week, the idea had been hashed out and rehashed over a generation.
Has the time come to make Leesburg a Main Street community? Maybe.
The foundation of Dentler’s proposal is important. He and other town leaders see the historic district undergoing a rebirth fueled by private sector investment, largely in new restaurants and night spots. The downtown could be on the verge of something special and, if properly nurtured, a sustainable upswing.
The question council members are asking is: How can the town government help make that happen? The question many businesses owners are asking is: How can we keep the town government from getting in the way?
Veterans of the downtown economic roller coaster know this is a critical point in the cycle. This is where those in power tend to take the budding successes for granted and expect more to follow. Then, in a blink, the heart of town again is dotted with empty storefronts and going out of business signs. It is a cycle that has been repeated despite the best efforts of government leaders and a parade of energetic business advocacy organizations.
Dentler has seen that cycle, too, and doesn’t want it repeated on his watch.
The Main Street concept has a proven track record and the results of well-run programs can be seen in some of the commonwealth’s most lively and inviting city centers. It may pay dividends here, as well.
A key factor in its success will be a commitment for the town government to make the funding investment and then get out of the way. The program’s effectiveness is rooted in its independence. Under the concept, it will be up to a hired program coordinator reporting to a community-based board of directors to balance the competing interests, ideas and egos of the downtown stakeholders. That challenge is daunting enough without mixing in the whims of nitpicking politicians.
Is this proposal the best way to sustain downtown’s economic success? It’s worth talking about. By now, we should know what doesn’t work.