Establishing a Main Street organization for Leesburg could once again be on the Town Council’s radar screen.
Such an initiative was last discussed four years ago. Town Manager Kaj Dentler had proposed allocating $110,000 in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget to establish the nonprofit and hire an executive director in joining the nationwide program. Such a program would oversee things like downtown promotions and events, and provide a cohesive voice for the downtown business community.
The National Main Street Center Inc., a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, works with a nationwide network of programs and communities to encourage preservation-based community revitalization. The cities or towns accepted into the Main Street program form a nonprofit with an executive director and board of directors that works in concert with the local government and citizen advisory groups.
Ultimately, that budget allocation landed on the cutting room floor during the Town Council’s budget mark-up sessions.
Previously, the subject of starting a Main Street organization was seriously considered in 1990 and again in 2001, but never pursued. In 2004, the town established a downtown coordinator position to oversee some of the same goals of a Main Street program, but less than a decade later the position was cut.
Many downtown organizations have come and gone over the years, but perhaps the most significant change in the downtown historic district has been its overall vibrancy and now well-earned reputation as a destination.
“The thing is 10 years ago, 15 years ago it was more about revitalization. Thankfully, our downtown really has become a thriving destination. Now it’s more about enhancing and optimizing the downtown,” Councilman Ara Bagdasarian said during the council’s Monday work session.
Vice Mayor Marty Martinez revived the discussion of establishing a Main Street organization last month, when he requested a work session item on the matter.
Economic Development Director Russell Seymour said Monday that facets of the Virginia Main Street program have changed since the town last explored the subject a few years back. The program now offers a four-tiered system, and it’s not until the latter two tiers that localities would have to begin exploring the formation of a 501(c)3 and enter a competitive process. The first two tiers offer some of the same benefits of a full-blown Main Street program, including grant funding.
Generally speaking, Seymour said, running a Main Street program can average between $150,000 to $225,000 annually. Typically, fundraising overseen by the established 501(c)3 covers up to 75% of the organization’s annual budget, but Seymour said most localities continually provide 25% to 30% of the organization’s annual funding. Initial start-up costs are usually borne by the locality, he said.
Seymour said the town staff was interested in exploring whether a Main Street program with its tiered system would be a good fit for Leesburg. Of paramount importance, he said, is gauging interest and support from the business community.
Council members supported Seymour beginning his research, and added some ideas of their own. Bagdasarian said he would like to see such an organization have some sort of dedicated funding mechanism, like deriving its operating expenses from downtown parking fees, for example.
Council members Kari Nacy and Suzanne Fox suggested that other areas of the town may be in more need of revitalization than the thriving downtown, and perhaps an organization’s focus not be limited to the historic district.
Mayor Kelly Burk warned, however, that the downtown was experiencing some vacancies so perhaps the focus shouldn’t be elsewhere.
Overall, though, the council seemed to be generally in favor of seriously considering a Main Street program yet again.
“It made a lot of sense 10 years ago, it makes a lot of sense today,” Bagdasarian said. “There are opportunities right now to enhance what is already working, coordinate things, act on behalf of the business community, and take downtown to the next level.”