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CMSC Blog: A Unified Voice in Support of Downtown

A Unified Voice in Support of Downtown

By Michelle McCabe, CMSC Executive Director

I fell in love with Fairfield because of its downtown.  The charm of attractive storefronts and restaurants, the feel of lots going on, watching people bustling about on a sunny day together combined to communicate a warm, welcoming community that I wanted to join.  In my new role as Executive Director of Connecticut Main Street Center, I have the privilege of falling in love with countless main streets beyond the town in which I live.  It’s no wonder that downtowns and main streets are consistently referenced as a draw to Connecticut, bringing new businesses, workers, and visitors to live, work and play in our state.

However, we know that creating an inviting main street is no easy feat.  Main streets rely on a complex network of relationships. Housing, food and drink, transportation, workforce, walkability, arts and culture, entertainment, parking, zoning, property owners and small businesses – many competing interests that require careful balancing and negotiation in order to craft a working ecosystem.   Interdependency may be the underlying reality of a main street but that doesn’t mean that all the stakeholders on main street see the bigger picture when conducting their daily business.  A skilled main street manager builds coalitions among these actors, uniting them around common goals to support the entire corridor.   Strength in numbers all rowing in the same direction can realize sustainable and continuous growth.

The relationship and coalition building that is so critical to a vibrant main street informs advocacy at the state-level as well.  Decision making each session has a ripple effect at the municipal level with the capacity to raise all ships or possibly sink them.   Main streets have an opportunity to influence those decisions, to raise concerns, enact new policies, and direct funding that will support success in our rural, suburban and urban downtowns.  In order to move the needle, main streets benefit from joining forces around a unified platform.

Connecticut Main Street historically has facilitated building a collective voice for our members and making connections with other advocacy coalitions to support our priorities. In the last session, CMSC advocated in support of legislation that expanded outdoor dining options and the application of abandoned and blighted property receivership, and informed proposed legislation around transit oriented development.  Additionally, CMSC partnered with the newly formed Main Street Working Group, comprised of Reps. Jennifer Leeper, Jane Garibay, and Quentin Williams.  The Working Group was created to study existing policies and identify opportunities to support local Downtown Main Streets across the state. CMSC provided them with information on issues facing downtowns and connected the Working Group with downtown professionals and industry experts who can speak to issues managing a downtown.

In preparation for the upcoming session, we spent the summer and fall making sure that we heard from our members about what they need.  As a response to the focus on affordable housing around transit nodes, we conducted a TOD listening tour, visiting several of the main streets impacted by the proposed legislation.  In September, we distributed our first CMSC Advocacy Survey to gather input on a variety of topics from mixed income residential to support for small business to expanding transit.  The results are informing our policy priorities, which we will be unveiling in December along with the first convening with the legislature’s Main Street Working Group.  As a preview to our upcoming report, here are the issues that rose to the top from the results of our conversations and survey responses:

  • Increase direct support for main street small businesses and food retailers that includes access to capital and addressing workforce shortages
  • Support downtown development through a combination of tax incentives and access to capital
  • Enact implementation legislation that can allow for more municipal input on main street properties
  • Expand bus lines to better connect workers to jobs, increase funding for multimodal transit, and increase frequency of rail and bus
  • Shorten wait times for approval processes in administrative departments
  • Ensure that all downtowns – whether they are urban, suburban or rural – have equal access to funding and incentives

Weighing in on legislation being crafted that impacts main streets is important; creating our own Main Street bills that are designed to specifically support vibrancy is essential.   CMSC is looking forward to continued input from our members as we move into session in honing our priorities, meeting with legislators, and submitting public testimony. 

As everyone’s neighborhood, Connecticut’s main streets are one of our state’s most precious assets.  CMSC will work to ensure state-level investments are made in terms of supportive policies, funding, marketing, and efficiencies that reflect their importance to Connecticut’s future.

About the Author

Michelle McCabe is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Executive Director.  Michelle brings 12 years of non-profit experience to CMSC.  Before joining, Michelle served as interim Executive Director for HomeBridge Ventures, a non-profit focused on holistic workforce development and re-entry programming for formerly incarcerated individuals, and over seven years as Director of the FEED Center with The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. In the course of this work, she built multiple programs from the ground up, leading strategic planning, raising funds from a diversity of revenue sources, and guiding boards and staff through organizational change. Her experience also extends to successful public/private collaborations, community engagement, and policy advocacy.  Michelle currently serves on the Board of the Connecticut Arts Alliance and as a member of Fairfield’s Representative Town Meeting.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Vassar College and a master’s degree in art history and criticism from the University of Texas at Austin.

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CMSC Blog: From Problems to Partners Training Recap

From Problems to Partners Training Recap

By Kristen Lopez

As a Main Street professional, do any of these challenges sound familiar?

  • The need to rebuild trust
  • A COVID-created sense of disconnectedness
  • Educating the community on “why”
  • Getting buy-in or people to commit and participate
  • Communication issues like leveraging technology and collaborating across sectors
  • Resistance to change

If so, you’re not alone.

These are the challenges attendees identified during our recent training, From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments. Main Street Leaders from all corners of Connecticut convened at CMSC’s Hartford office to learn practical engagement strategies and tactics through interactive case studies and group discussion led by Raquel Vazquez from The Empowered Block.

And those challenges listed above? It turns out the core source is misaligned engagement efforts.

During the training, Raquel led attendees through discussions and exercises focused on how to re-align those engagement efforts. In this post, we’re summarizing some of the key ideas and strategies that you can put into use today.

Understanding Stakeholders’ Roles and Perspectives

The first step to building strong, trusting connections with stakeholders is to understand their role in the downtown ecosystem, and to fully understand their priorities, wants, and needs. Without taking this into consideration, expectations and motivations can be easily misunderstood and communication can break down.

Every stakeholder has unique perspectives. If you are having trouble understanding a stakeholder, some strategies you can employ are: ask for clarification and practice active listening, ask for feedback, keep an open line of communication, and promptly resolve misunderstandings and miscommunications.

Take inventory of your downtown stakeholders and go through an exercise of considering their role and their priorities/needs/wants. For example, small business owners contribute to the sense of a place in the downtown and they are concerned with hiring and maintaining good employees. What else do small business owners contribute and prioritize?

Engagement Strategies

Building relationships with stakeholders happens through engagement. Some communities leverage technology like Bang the Table and CitizenLab, while others use traditional means like newsletters and social media. However, these typical strategies only serve one-way forms of communications and are best for sharing announcements. Depending on your objectives – like developing a plan or solving a complex problem – you need to utilize multiple methods of engagement. For example, you might want to convene focus groups for input on the development of a plan, a steering committee to get different perspectives on a problem, or a formal partnership to tackle a more intricate challenge. 

Inclusive Engagement

Critical to any successful stakeholder engagement is inclusivity. Ensure that relationships are formed with groups diverse across gender, race, cultural, linguistic, ethnic, disability, LGTBTQIA, different ages, and other identities. Create a welcoming environment and expand accessibility (e.g. language, physical abilities, time of day, method of engagement, etc.), but don’t make assumptions that you know best how to achieve an inclusive environment. Solicit feedback and guidance from community members or hire an appropriate consultant.

It also helps to be aware of your community’s history of exclusion and how it impacts today. Communities that have been historically disenfranchised may not engage because they feel “my voice doesn’t matter.” Resources to consider are the book “Color of the Law” by Richard Rothstein and trauma-informed community engagement.

Building Collaborative Teams

To build high-performing, collaborative teams, first understand some of the challenges in forming such teams: people are stressed, they have biases, some are perceived as being difficult, goals and timelines can be unrealistic, priorities and needs aren’t communicated, body language or tone can be misinterpreted.

How can you overcome these barriers? Invest in developing your active listening skills, improve your ability to navigate difficult conversations, and facilitate effective meetings. Learn about team dynamics and accept different people’s perspectives and preferred forms of communication or working environments.

Learn More

A huge thank you to Raquel Vazquez for bringing this training to Connecticut’s downtown leaders. To learn more about The Empowered Block and Raquel’s work, please visit or reach out to Raquel directly at

About the Author

Kristen Lopez is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Education & Training Director. With over 12 years of program development and marketing experience in economic development with a specific focus on small business,  she is motivated by the mission to see Main Streets across Connecticut thrive. Kristen is an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer alum, a StartingBloc Fellow, and Next City Vanguard Fellow. She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Messiah University.

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CMSC Blog: Right-sizing Projects in Today’s Volatile Construction Market

Right-sizing Projects in Today’s Volatile Construction Market

By Michael C. Scott, AIA, TSKP STUDIO

There are two Towns only 9 minutes apart in the surprisingly large state of Pennsylvania, the Town of Desire and the Town of Panic. As architects, we find ourselves on the road driving between desire and panic, trying to find the right balance for projects. Establishing the goals of a project early and building consensus around those goals can build a solid road map to follow as plans unfold and detours occur.

Public clients grow and build differently than commercial clients. Public capital projects are built less frequently and must last longer. While budgets guide all projects, public projects are often constrained to the initial budget number, often by public money appropriated by referendum. This creates an early public expectation of scope, quality, and cost, which must be met. Typically, public projects have a champion or a group of visionaries who drive the initial steps and have a multitude of stakeholders. For a community to truly become invested in the project, these stakeholders need to be included early in the process when the project goals are established. Ultimately, it is the end user who will determine the success of the project.

Once a project’s goals are established, and existing conditions have been studied, the beginning of a concept starts to take shape. During the design process, projects are introduced and tested against the real world in which they must perform. Any educator, leader, or parent recognizes this as the adolescence stage. Projects, like most people, grow awkwardly. They present flashes of what they can become but often reside as partially realized until another sudden moment of growth. Projects have always developed in this manner, but what happens when projects must do so in the current market environment?

Unprecedented changes and struggles defined the last two years. Construction markets thrive on stability. Since early 2020, we have seen nothing but volatility as the market has swung between extremes. The initial pandemic uncertainty forced immediate and dramatic deflation as bidders attempted to hold production and maintain market share. Our region saw bids as much as 20% below 2019 budgets. However, as the uncertainty of the pandemic persisted, the market became dominated by scarcity. Shortages of labor and materials pressured commodity markets and production. Shipping and delivery issues started to become commonplace. As the market recognized these new realities, inflation and interest rates rose. In our region, we see escalation well above 10%.

If the construction market thrives on stability, how can projects be successful when the market unexpectedly swings by as much as 30%? These are challenging times for clients and their developing projects. Experience as architects, educators, and leaders, teaches us three key points.

  1. BE CLEAR. Guiding the development of public projects relies on consistently reinforcing the project’s goals. These goals must be clear and the standards set early. Moreover, there must be consensus on those goals. A project with a clear vision is more likely to succeed in a volatile market. When obstacles arise, turn to the project goals to guide decisions. This can safeguard the project from adding unnecessary frills, blowing the budget, or (worse) taking away necessities to meet the budget. Projects must meet their goals to be successful.
  1. BE OPEN. Multiple solutions achieve the necessary criteria. Build first what must be in place, knowing it will stand for decades. Consider building with materials that are timeless and durable. Then build what is needed only for now, not for all time. Consider multiple uses of the same space. Build less space. Public projects come to life when occupied by their end-users. Smaller, more durable projects are more lively and adaptable. Exposing a project to today’s market pressures burns off the unnecessary to reveal the essential. Testing the desired project goals against what is needed minimizes future budget and program panic.
  1. BE NIMBLE. Now that the essential project criteria are defined, and goals have been achieved, it’s time to meet with the stakeholders to discuss the next set of standards. Offer flexibility, serve more end-users, last longer, and operate more efficiently, for example. As designers, we build these criteria into the drawings at every phase called Add Alternates. An Add Alternate is a list of “nice to haves” which are priced at every milestone. Ultimately, the project is bid with these alternates allowing the market to weigh in on their value. We have found that even in this volatile market, competition for the overall project affords aggressive pricing and good value on alternates. These alternates also have an advantage well in advance of bid day. At each phase, the list of alternates is priced and evaluated by the project team. Together, we can track the “cost” of features, programs, or systems the stakeholder values. This affords the project “rank-choice” prioritization. Some alternates might be folded into the core project. Some may fade away. Alternates create an open and transparent forum for what the project could and must include. Alternates save time. This allows a project to proceed onto the next phase and ultimately into bidding. However, alternates are not a list of needs. The core project must meet the overall goal without any of these alternates.

Not long ago, we built things to be sustainable. Now we build to be resilient – resiliency in our institutions, our programs, and our communities. Projects, too, must be resilient. Buildings, in their final form, should be adaptable. For the foreseeable future, bringing such facilities into being must adapt to these market forces. Such an effort requires passionate foresight of all a project must become and patient insight into how it must get there.

About the Author

Michael C. Scott

Michael C. Scott has contributed to a wide range of project types and scales, from working with Steve Jobs on the corporate campus for Pixar in Northern California to a middle school in Middletown, Connecticut. He enjoys creating a complete environment that fosters a sense of community and leaves the community with a feeling that their voices were heard.  Michael is a registered architect and a senior associate in the Hartford-based TSKP STUDIO with 25 years of experience. He can be found exploring a trail in one of Connecticut’s many land trusts or at his local library, browsing books related to local history or humor (sometimes the same book).

About TSKP

TSKP Studio

Founded in 1970, TSKP STUDIO is a diverse architectural practice that continues the legacy of our founder, Tai Soo Kim, who grew the firm to international recognition through a dedication to hard-work, exploration and commitment to logical and elegant design. Our work responds to the unique context of each site and client with educators often remarking how well the classrooms and spaces work for their students and them. By embracing the diversity and talents of our staff we leverage a broad range of skills and experiences to provide fresh solutions to complex challenges. Regardless of project scope, size or budget, our definition of success is creating spaces that positively impact the life, productivity and wellbeing of our clients and end-users.

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An Interview with Raquel Vazquez, The Empowered Block

An Interview with Raquel Vazquez, The Empowered Block

With Kristen Lopez

In September we’ll be hosting a training workshop called, From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments. This issue is raised frequently by our members across the state, and it requires time to build and strengthen community engagement skills to get it done right.

We’re thrilled to be partnering with Rachel Vasquez, the CEO & Founder of The Empowered Block to deliver this training. Our Education & Training Director, Kristen Lopez, recently interviewed Raquel to learn more about her background, experience, and what attendees can expect from the day.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Hi Raquel! We’re so excited to work with you on our upcoming training. Can you give a brief overview of who you are and what The Empowered Block is?

Hi Kristen! I’m Raquel Vasquez, CEO and founder of The Empowered Block. The Empowered Block is a community development consultancy focused on economic development, affordable housing, community engagement, and everything else community development related.

As for myself, I’m a community development professional. I’ve been in this industry for over 13 years from the public/private sector and nonprofit sector perspectives. I’ve worked with a ton of communities on various initiatives.

When we first connected, one of the topics we discussed was how many different and interesting projects you’ve worked on, and the core theme has been community engagement. Can you give an example of how you used community engagement best practices to work in a challenging environment to complete a project?

One project that comes to mind is Age Friendly New York City. I was a part of launching the first aging improvement district in the Bronx a couple years ago. There were a ton of partners that we had to get involved, with me overseeing and spearheading the initiative and pulling it together. And there was a ton of stakeholders that we had to engage on a local level to really understand how we can address customer needs, especially for those aging in place in our communities. How can we make businesses more accessible physically? What are the auditory pedestrian signals that we can put in major intersections where there are heavy concentrations of senior citizens residing in the area?

We thought of a lot of infrastructure upgrades that the City could promote to ensure accessibility, like more signs to alert pedestrians and people driving vehicles where there are people that might be hearing impaired and so forth.

It was extremely rewarding building a coalition and a whole network of partners for this initiative. Seeing the physical landscape change to be more accommodating to those with limited physical and hearing abilities and seeing the upgrades in businesses – for instance ramps – was exciting to see happen.

That’s one initiative I worked on that was really amazing, just working with the small business community on those type of initiatives. And it really helps everybody – it helps business owners, it helps property owners, it fosters goodwill among the residents and the potential customers of businesses in the community.

That’s an amazing project. I can imagine it was also complex and nuanced with varying degrees of business and city support.  And the process you took for this initiative is truly very similar to any other project, like working with merchants with unattractive window displays that’s affecting the whole Main Street. You need to build coalitions, partners, and resources to influence and get people on board.

So, when we say “community engagement” it’s a loaded term. Because “community” is made up of a lot of different people, a lot of different stakeholders, all with different perspectives, opinions, lived experiences, and agendas. When we’re talking about Main Street development, downtown development, or commercial corridor development, what are some of the most common community members and stakeholders and what are some of the kinds of common roadblocks that we face in this type of work?

In the context of economic development and small business development, the main stakeholders are the residents, the customers, the businesses, who owns the businesses, the property owners, the property managers who are managing those properties on behalf of the property owners. Then we have the municipalities and the municipal agencies. So that’s everything from departments of economic development to the mayoral offices. Then there are the elected officials that drive their own agendas with the community and partnership with the community. There are other governance bodies such as community boards or other coalitions that are initiated by or overseen by municipal agencies. That’s just the landscape in terms of economic development and small business context of engagement. But each of these stakeholders have their own perspectives. They have their own priorities and needs. They have their own concerns and challenges.

In the training, we’re going to take a deeper dive into the roles of each of these stakeholder groups and how these roles impact their needs, concerns, and opportunities. There are a ton of different opportunities that each of these stakeholder groups experience. There’s a – hopefully not a lot of barriers, but there are some identified barriers that we’re aware of that they experience. We definitely want to bring awareness to everybody’s perspectives, all stakeholder groups in their perspectives, so that we’re better able to serve our own communities.

The landscape is so big and complex. And I think that as a professional doing this type of work, we immediately think of the business owners themselves, we think about the property owners, the kind of maybe more easy to reach, easy to contact stakeholders, but there’s just so much more nuance there.

Let’s talk more about the upcoming From Problems to Partners training. This topic of, how do we engage business owners, how do we engage property owners who might be absent and completely out of touch, and how do we deal with municipal departments that are overworked, overwhelmed, or maybe just apathetic to what you’re trying to accomplish? These are concerns and challenges that we hear from our members all across Connecticut. So that’s why we’ve partnered with you to glean your wisdom from all your experience. Can you share a little bit about what attendees can expect from this training?

Absolutely. Attendees can definitely expect an interactive dynamic conversation and training on stakeholder engagement. There’s going be lots of opportunities to share your individual experiences, share a little bit about barriers and challenges you’ve encountered or experienced, as well as share best practices that you have implemented, or what you want to implement in your local Main Street corridor. We’ll discuss how we can work collaboratively to build a successful stakeholder engagement landscape and build strong partnerships with organizations in our local communities.

You can also expect and a ton of strategies and resources to be shared during and after the workshop.

What are some of the specific topics that will be covered?

We’ll first start with a general overview on stakeholder engagement just to understand the principles.

Then we’re going to discuss some engagement strategies that organizations can leverage to engage with the different stakeholders that they’re interacting with.  We’ll talk about the various stakeholder perspectives, as I mentioned briefly earlier, and their needs, barriers, and challenges for inclusive engagement.

We’ll cover building collaborative teams, driving forth public-private partnerships, and building fruitful partnerships with stakeholders.  We’ll also talk about the context of Connecticut and history of exclusion and how we can engage all communities.

We’re going leave with best practices and a lot of strategies.

It’s going to be a very packed session! Good thing we will be feeding you breakfast before we dive into the content, so you will be fed and caffeinated!   

I love how we’ll be discussing each stakeholder group and their perspective and learn different strategies to engage them because not every approach will work for every group the same way.

As we wrap up, can you share what you’re most excited about for this training?

I’m excited to connect with the participants and talk about how we can improve the small business and economic development landscape across the state by leveraging stakeholder engagement as a strategy, as a set of tools. I’m excited to hear about everyone’s experiences, their perspectives. I want to facilitate very meaningful conversations about building partnerships and relationships with local stakeholders. As important as takeaways and strategies are, there’s so much that we can learn from one another. So, I’m excited about all that, the opportunity to share, and to really reflect and learn from everyone in the room.

There’s always magic that happens when people can get together and share their personal experience, what worked, what didn’t work. And that’s part of the reason why we wanted to have this in person training versus on Zoom.

I’m personally also really excited about all the scenarios and case studies we’ll be reviewing. I think the attendees will really like that practical application and have robust conversation on how to handle these situations.

Thank you so much, Raquel, for taking your time to share a little bit more about your experience and expertise.  We are all very excited for this program coming up September 29th, 2022 – From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments.

Thank you so much, Kristen, and looking forward to it as well.

To learn more about and to register for From Problems to Partners: How to Successfully Engage Merchants, Property Owners, and Municipal Departments please visit our website: Deadline to register is September 15, 2022. Don’t delay signing up for this fantastic training as space is limited.

About Kristen Lopez

Kristen M. Lopez is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Education & Training Director. With over 11 years of experience in economic development from various roles and industries across the United States, she has always worked with adults to achieve their goals through education. Kristen is an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer alum, a StartingBloc Fellow, and Next City Vanguard Fellow. She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Messiah University.

About Raquel Vazquez

Raquel is Founder & CEO of the Empowered Block LLC. For over 12 years, Raquel has spent her career in community development work, ranging from constituent services, community outreach, policy analysis, and affordable housing development in New York City and Washington, DC.

She has dedicated her career to advance equity, foster investment, and strengthen public-private partnerships in underserved communities.

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, Raquel is proud to be a Black & Latina community development professional. Raquel has a Master’s in Public Administration, Graduate Certificate in Real Estate Finance, and a double Bachelor’s in Sociology and Latin American & Caribbean Studies.

To learn more about Raquel, check out her website or LinkedIn.

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Making the Most Out of Your Street Lights

Making the Most out of Your Street Lights

by Penn Globe

Downtown streetlights have historically had a singular purpose; light our streets and make residents feel safe.

But what if lights could deliver more than lighting? Today’s forward thinking planners and managers believe they can and should. Streetlight poles can provide both a signature aesthetic and a growing list of functional deliverables.

When considering poles and street lights for a downtown project, the design and decision making team should dive deep into the potential needs and wants of their community. Aesthetics is typically always at the top of the concern list and establishing a municipal signature standard is paramount. Perhaps a town is considered a historic location and wants retain an old world feel. Other towns may be creating an ultra-contemporary center and want lighting that reflects that vision.

For some projects, something as simple as the aesthetic addition of an unusual color or adding small decorative components may be all a streetscape needs to give that unique element. One must also consider the appearance, the signature, and the statement that a downtown center wishes to make. By following the old adage of “keep things simple”, cities and towns may have a way to use their street lighting as the town’s statement piece and signature style – and one that does not come with a significant increase in cost.

The University of Connecticut is a perfect example that showcases the impact of both a custom finial and dual banner arms to add both identification and character to the campus landscape. It is often over-looked how transformative and impactful something a small as changing a finial can be. Municipal street lighting invites thinking beyond one-size-fits-all options.

Given that style and function matter in equal measure, municipal designers would do well to challenge themselves by avoiding standard selections out of a product catalog. Street lighting is something that invites creativity, including but not limited to, overall style, color, or decor and functional accessories.

Hanging flower pot brackets, way-finding signage, flag banner brackets are a few functional and simple options that bring character and add an element of attractiveness to any streetscape. Banner brackets create a sense of community and are a lively colorful visual addition. Electrical outlets located discreetly at the top of posts make holiday displays a simple installation and provide a clean appearance.

Function jumps to an entirely new level when municipalities begin the journey to create unique placemaking locations for city residents. Placemaking is about community, a warm feeling and designing a destination. Unusual, yet functional, streetlight options are a natural fit in this space. A designer can add discreet speakers for broadcasting music by local musicians. An electrical outlet can also be installed at the bottom of the post so street vendors have easy access to power. A sense of community can also be an important part of building a successful downtown space. Many towns struggle with fundraising for their downtown improvement or revitalization project. One common fundraising tactic is selling dedication bricks that become a statement and a reminder of the community members that come together in the name of beautification and community. The exact same fundraising method can be done with street lights, except instead of bricks, the poles can be donned with dedication plaques. 

In recent years, the conversations have been building around developing lighting installations to include SMART technologies. By utilizing the existing real estate of light fixtures and poles, these types of technologies have aided cities both large and small in regard to infrastructure, transportation, safety, and even economic development. Today, it is common to see cameras incorporated into local street lights. Depending on the class and style, these cameras are able to monitor and collect a wide array of information including, but not limited to, facial recognition information, car and pedestrian counters, and even dangerous object detection. WiFi is more often than not required for lighting projects that include video surveillance, but that brings us to another technology that is embedded within streetlights and poles these days. WiFi access is becoming increasingly popular in public spaces, so why wouldn’t we expect to see it coming to more downtown areas?

This is a valuable and requested resource by many residents of cities, regardless of size, and is also a benefit to local businesses who can utilize that access for advertising and increasing foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores. Yes, many of these SMART technologies may be considered “too much” for a small town but there are other technologies and solutions that do not break the bank and still provide a range of possibilities.

It may not be an initial thought most would have, but the incorporation of speakers to a street light allows for both communication and community. Take the city of Waterbury, Connecticut for instance and their inclusion of speakers to their new light fixtures and poles. The city now has an alternative way that local businesses are able advertise in between ambient music being streamed daily along a downtown street. It also serves as an alert system for the area. Speakers are multi-purpose but above all assist in creating the type of environment that people really want to be in. While these advancements open up a world of possibilities and invaluable information to city officials, not all of these types of add-ons are always initially financially feasible. Municipalities would be advised to request “future-proofing” so that if, and when, funds are available, the streetlight can become SMART without costly fixture removal and reinstallation.

The possibilities are all there and can almost be considered endless when it comes to designing the street lighting element of a placemaking project. The key to it is having a creative and malleable team of engineers, designers, and decision makers who value the importance of creating the type of downtown spaces where residents and visitors alike truly want to be and want to keep coming back.

About the Author

Since 1877, Penn Globe has been America’s premier outdoor lighting company. Today, we enjoy working with the best customers, our cities, towns, colleges and universities each of whom entrust Penn Globe with their vision. Penn Globe is dedicated to honoring our history while focusing on future lighting innovations. Our talented and progressive team is passionate about authentic outdoor lighting individually designed for each customer, all with energy saving and sustainable features, manufactured to exacting customer specifications.

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Engaging Your Board to Assist Your Fundraising Efforts

Engaging Your Board to Assist Your Fundraising Efforts

By Brian Thomas

I have been involved in some great boards in my professional career. Most have been knowledgeable, energetic, forward-thinking, and true assets to the organization they represent. However, there is one important aspect of board membership that few people are enthusiastic about – fundraising. Most of the time, they mistakenly think they are expected to personally ask all their business contacts, colleagues, friends, and family members for money. Once I explain that direct solicitation is not their role, most are relieved and are much more open to discuss what they can do to help. While a board member should not be expected to solicit funds, they do play several important roles in the fundraising process.

Be Visionary
One of the primary roles of your board members when it comes to fundraising is to be visionaries. They should provide leadership and help you develop the roadmap to your fundraising strategy. The board should help you assess your organization and prioritize which funding sources and programs to focus on and which should take a back seat. They should also assist you in identifying new sources and improvements to current programs that could lead to further funding.

Make Connections
One of the most important fundraising roles your board members play is as a connection maker. They should be opening new doors for you and making introductions to their connections that aren’t already invested in your organization. Your role is to cultivate that relationship, get them involved, and eventually get them to be a donor. Your board can be a huge help in expanding your network and building donor relationships.

Play a Supporting Role
Another role your board should play is as a supporter. Many board members like this aspect the most as it does not require them to make an introduction or ask but has the opportunity to make a great impact. This supporting role can include going along on fundraising meetings, making thank you calls to donors, and attending events to meet other donors in person.

Also, board members are expected to be donors as well. Some organizations require donors to give at a certain level, but most are expected to give according to his or her means. Either way, board donation is expected to be 100{4f7e8c1260e76ae5445ac5bed08504f741eb006adc242379decdc77c227c2bd6}. This shows potential donors, partners, staff, and volunteers that they are truly committed to the cause.

I have found it’s best to have conversations about fundraising roles one-on-one rather than in a group setting. It allows for more frank and honest conversations. Once board members understand what is really expected of them, most often it puts them at ease. Making your board feel comfortable with their role is key to maximizing your fundraising efforts.

About the Author

Brian Thomas serves as Connecticut Main Street Center’s Development Director, the first to hold the role dedicated to cultivating funder relationships in its 20+ year history. Brian began his development career after the loss of his cousin from cystic fibrosis, when he was inspired to leave the corporate world to serve as the first Executive Director of Outrun 38, a local non-profit organization focused on running, healthy living, and raising funds for the adult cystic fibrosis community. From there he moved to the Muscular Dystrophy Association of CT, raising funds for individuals and families affected by muscular dystrophy, before joining the American Cancer Society where he led the Relay For Life of Farmington Valley, the fourth largest Relay in the country, as well as working with community and corporate partners, and all-volunteer event leadership teams.

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Lighting for Equitable Revitalization

Lighting for Equitable Revitalization

By Mark Loeffler, IALD, IES, LEED Fellow and Edward Bartholomew, IALD, IES, LEED AP

Lighting is an essential, but often overlooked element of the revitalization of cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Well-designed, well-maintained lighting is welcoming and reassuring. Everyone deserves good lighting: visually appealing, environmentally responsible, and socially beneficial. However, historically neglected communities usually suffer bad and often excessive lighting, which is socially and environmentally unjust.

“Light Justice” is an idea rooted in the ongoing conversation between lighting designers Edward Bartholomew and Mark Loeffler about their mutual recognition of harmful disparities of lighting quality and inequality in the public realm. Edward, based in Cambridge, MA and Mark, located in the New Haven area, could simply look at their own cities to see the obvious and remarkable disparity of lighting quality between affluent and lower income neighborhoods. In an attempt to reduce crime, a misguided belief that “more light is safer” has gripped many municipalities. It is clearly visible in neighborhoods that were redlined in the early 20th century – often adjacent to downtown districts with attractively upgraded lighting – and that still endure infrastructural racism and neglect. The all-night glare of unshielded industrial lighting on buildings and utility poles is as ubiquitous as potholes, missing sidewalks, and poor drainage. Weaponized lighting for surveillance prioritizes property over people. Studies have revealed that exposure to excessive nighttime lighting is concentrated in communities of color. This has measurable impacts on human and environmental wellbeing. The rapid proliferation of overly-bright, cool white LED outdoor lighting has worsened global light pollution, damaging natural circadian patterns for animals. For people, it disrupts sleep patterns, harms psychological health, and lighting over-exposure has been shown to increase cancer rates in these impacted communities. Negligent lighting discourages enjoyable nighttime activities and beneficial social gatherings that build community identity and worth.

“Light Justice” is the practice of planning, designing, implementing, and investing in good lighting for under-resourced neighborhoods through a process of stakeholder engagement and community-supported placemaking. It closely correlates with the principles of the Design Justice Network which “rethinks design processes, centers people who are normally marginalized by design, and uses collaborative, creative practices to address the deepest challenges our communities face.” It also fits very well with Main Street America’s Four Point Approach to organization, promotion, design, and economic restructuring.

Join us for our webinar Light + Justice: How Your Main Street Lighting Reflects What – and Who – You Value

The remedy will require a change in how lighting is valued and prioritized by municipal planners and policy makers. Good lighting does not just happen, it has to be thoughtfully planned, designed, installed, and maintained. The Design Justice movement points the way to a new approach to inclusive engagement of community members as “citizen designers” to advise planning and design teams. The lighting industry has an enormous opportunity to provide expertise and knowledge to help municipalities understand the wisdom of investing in good lighting for everyone. Lighting designers need to be part of the initial planning process, not just as an expert, but as a listener and facilitator of stakeholder gatherings. The best public works, including the lighting, are inspired by a full understanding of the concerns and desires of the people who will live with the results.

There are excellent examples of partnerships that are improving lighting justice and the visual experience for previously badly lighted communities. The Chicago Smart Lighting Program upgraded more than 300,000 street and sidewalk luminaires, starting in South Chicago, employing local, minority-owned contractors. Baltimore’s Signal Station North project has developed a community engagement program that enables residents to play with light and express preferences that the design team has integrated into their plans and recommendations. New Haven’s Town Green District teamed with a local lighting design firm to plan lighting upgrades for urban pocket parks and underused pedestrian corridors, based on workshops with neighborhood residents to learn their concerns and questions. As funding becomes available, these improvements will focus on warmth, glare-prevention, and sparkle at pedestrian scale –   qualities of nighttime light preferred by neighborhood stakeholders. Good and equitable lighting is a worthy and valuable investment, especially when it benefits people who have always endured bad and unjust lighting.

About the Authors

Edward Bartholomew, IALD, IES, LEED AP is the principal of Bartholomew Lighting, a Black-owned design consultancy located in Cambridge, MA.  A lighting designer and educator for more than thirty years, he is a professional member of the International Association of Lighting Designers, a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society, and a LEED Accredited Professional. Currently, he serves on the IES Diversity, Equality, Inclusiveness, and Respect Committee as a founding member. Edward is an invited speaker on lighting technology, energy efficiency strategies, and social justice at regional, national, and international conferences. He also co-teaches graduate lighting classes at Morgan State University and at the Rhode Island School of Design.  In his practice and advocacy, Edward promotes Light Justice.

Edward Bartholomew, IALD, IES, LEED AP is the principal of Bartholomew Lighting, a Black-owned design consultancy located in Cambridge, MA.  A lighting designer and educator for more than thirty years, he is a professional member of the International Association of Lighting Designers, a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society, and a LEED Accredited Professional. Currently, he serves on the IES Diversity, Equality, Inclusiveness, and Respect Committee as a founding member. Edward is an invited speaker on lighting technology, energy efficiency strategies, and social justice at regional, national, and international conferences. He also co-teaches graduate lighting classes at Morgan State University and at the Rhode Island School of Design.  In his practice and advocacy, Edward promotes Light Justice.

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Downtown Light Pole Banners

Downtown Light Pole Banners

A Versatile, Effective Medium for Promotion, Wayfinding & Streetscape Enhancement 

Those colorful vertical banners that can be seen on light poles throughout many municipalities are known by several different names. These banners are commonly referred to as Light Pole Banners, Avenue Banners, Lamp Post Banners, or more simply, Pole Banners.

These banners are utilized by thousands of municipalities across the country for a variety of different purposes, including streetscape revitalization, wayfinding, and promotional efforts. Due to the high visibility of these vertical banners and the sheer number of poles in any setting, the impact of a well-designed light pole banner program can be quite significant.


Light Pole Banner programs can be used for promoting a variety of distinct aspects of not only the downtown area but also the community at large. The artistic and customizable nature of a light pole banner design offers the opportunity to highlight the unique characteristics, livability, attractions, and offerings of a community in a compelling message that is visually exciting and highly visible. Many downtown light pole banner programs incorporate a sponsorship opportunity where businesses, looking to promote their products or services, can have their business name and/or logo imprinted on the banner. Some banner programs are specifically designed to advertise and attract attention to downtown businesses with colorful artwork and welcoming messages such as “Shop, Dine, Unwind,” or “Eat, Drink, Play, & Shop.”

Here are some Downtown Banner designs, showing the various themes and messaging that communities have used. All these designs can be customized and/or modified to meet the requirements of any downtown banner initiative.


Because of the proximity of light poles and their visibility, many downtown settings utilize light pole banners with various wayfinding and/or directional messages. Depending on the scope of the project, some strategically placed light poles may bear colorful banners with arrows directing traffic to various locations, whether a specific retail area, parking, or a particular place such as a museum, Town Hall, or Shopping District, for example. These specific-use banners can be designed as part of an overall downtown banner project and can display the main design theme for continuity, with the addition of specific wayfinding messages where applicable. Many downtown districts utilize light pole banners for wayfinding purposes in lieu of the more common, generic aluminum printed signs, for their aesthetic appeal and ability to contribute to the character of a downtown setting.

Streetscape Enhancement 

Clearly one of the key initiatives in support of any downtown redevelopment or revitalization program is to promote the location to as wide an audience as possible, while attracting and increasing both local and visitor engagement. The “Shop Local” and “Small Business Saturdays” type programs are designed to increase awareness and promote the myriad businesses and their products and services available in a downtown setting. One aspect of this vital messaging campaign is to highlight all the features and benefits of supporting local businesses, such as keeping revenue dollars in the community, access to a wide range of unique products and services, and how such patronage can contribute to the livability, vitality, and sustainability of the community at large. Well-designed, high-quality light pole banners can play a key role in supporting this messaging campaign with high-impact and visually exciting designs that can inspire and add to the beautification of any downtown setting.

Types of Light Pole Banners 

Similar to online digital marketing efforts designed to attract as many “eyeballs” as possible, wherever there is a light pole, there is an opportunity to promote, advertise and attract “eyeballs” as well. Light pole banner programs are extremely cost effective, high-impact marketing tools that can deliver high return-on-investment outcomes. These popular banners are highly customizable and are available in several styles to fit every marketing campaign and budget.

Material Promotions, Inc., a specialty banner manufacturing company based in Waterbury, CT offers three styles of light pole banners to meet the needs of any downtown revitalization campaign. The company offers free consultation to its customers to guide them through the process of selecting and designing the most appropriate banner style for their needs. Customers can view a gallery of designs for ideas and inspiration and choose a specific design as a base template that they would like to have customized for their needs. Additionally, a banner design can be developed and created from scratch in collaboration with their in-house graphic designers.

Many downtowns, especially those that identify as “historic” districts often choose the more traditional, classic look of screen-printed canvas banners which complement the character and “feel” of these unique downtown settings.

For customers that want the same look and feel of traditional banners but have multiple full-color artwork designs, digitally printed canvas banners are an excellent option. For shorter-term banner programs, the less expensive, and more common digitally printed vinyl banners are available as well.

This information sheet compares the different banner styles while highlighting their features and benefits.


Light pole banners are an effective marketing tool for advertising, promoting, and enhancing any downtown setting.  They are highly customizable, cost effective and come in a variety of materials and styles to meet the needs of any campaign or budget.

About the Author

Peter Bove, President and founder of Material Promotions Inc., began his manufacturing career as the Operations Manager for the world’s preeminent custom sailmaking company, Northsails. After a long successful stint overseeing the production of high-tech racing sails for customers competing in world-class yacht racing venues, he transitioned to the printing industry. After many successful years managing operations for high-end printing companies, he opened his own company in 2007 and has never looked back!

Material Promotions Inc., a light pole banner specialty printing company, is available to consult and answer any questions you may have regarding either your own existing banner program or a brand-new banner program under consideration.  They can be reached by phone at 888-757-8908. To learn more about the company you can visit their website at

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Welcome to Downtown!

Welcome to Downtown!

I’m Carl Rosa, Connecticut Main Street Center’s new Field Services Director. This is a newly created position with a main responsibility that involves visiting with all current member downtowns as well as cultivating new communities into our CMSC family.

Prior to this role, for over 17 years, I had the privilege and honor of being the first Director and CEO of Main Street Waterbury. In that position, my responsibilities included administering the downtown program through the Main Street Four Points Approach and all of the challenges and rigors that come with that, leading it to the mature nationally accredited program that it is today. In fact, I’m pleased to say, from the first year of inception, Main Street Waterbury achieved accreditation status from Main Street America for 17 consecutive years.

This is an achievement that I am truly proud of and could not have been accomplished without the direct guidance, consultation and support of the Connecticut Main Street Center. In addition, in that role, I had the opportunity to travel to many downtowns across our beautiful state and visit with my colleagues as we shared similar stories about our challenges and hopes.

This is why I am so thrilled to be a new member of the CMSC team. I know firsthand the positive impact that CMSC has on downtowns across Connecticut. We are the “go to” for all things downtown.

We are the champion for best practices and standards that every downtown should aspire to. In my new role, as I meet with downtown practitioners and municipal leaders throughout the State, I plan to listen, learn, and offer whatever resources I can on behalf of CMSC to help your downtowns survive and thrive. My mantra is: Only Solutions!

About the Author

Carl Rosa serves as Connecticut Main Street Center’s Field Services Director. As a nationally certified Main Street Manager, Carl spent over 17 years directing Main Street Waterbury and their efforts to revitalize the City center. Carl has served on multiple Boards and committees in the greater Waterbury area including Waterbury Development Corporation Board of Directors, Waterbury Regional Chamber Public Policy Committee, The Arts and Culture Collaborative Waterbury Region Governing Council, and the North End Middle School Governing Council. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Connecticut.

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A Look at What’s Ahead in Education & Training at CMSC

A Look at What’s Ahead in Education & Training at CMSC

The work you do as leaders of your downtowns and Main Streets is transformative – changing not only the appearance and safety of a space but changing the attitudes, livelihoods, and quality of life of your constituents.

The Education & Training Director role at Connecticut Main Street Center was created to not only better serve our members but also to provide transformative learning experiences and opportunities that help our members be the leader their community needs.

Hi 👋my name is Kristen Lopez. I am CT Main Street Center’s new Education & Training Director.

Over the last 11 years I have had the privilege of tackling economic development from various positions and industries. But one consistent thread in all my roles was educating adults to reach their goals – whether it be obtaining a certification to reach their career goals or business training to build their dream business.

I have taught and advised hundreds of individuals pursuing their goals and there is nothing more rewarding than witnessing a “light bulb” moment. Transformative learning to me is more than educating on a topic or teaching a “how to,” it inspires and empowers the learner to take action they never thought possible before. In an ever-changing world, our main streets need bold leadership to take action never taken before.

I am so pleased to join the CMSC team and contribute to the mission of inspiring great downtowns throughout Connecticut. I’m looking forward to creating a robust education and training program that serves our members and supports our downtowns.

Photo Credit: Nick Addamo

Here’s what’s on the docket for this year and beyond…

  • More of the great webinars and programming you love that provide helpful insights and lessons learned from peers and subject matter experts on topics that matter most to you and your downtown. (Coming up next is our Food Halls & Public Markets webinar on February 22nd.
  • Building a robust on-demand library of workshops and tools you can access anytime to get the support you need when you need it.
  • And we’re most excited about developing a new Fellowship Program designed to increase our capacity to serve our members all around the state. Fellows will focus on economic development and historic preservation through a lens of sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion. We expect to launch this new program in 2023.

What are the topics you are most interested in learning more about? How can CT Main Street Center support you in your goals through training offerings? Do you have a case study or expertise that downtown leaders should hear? Please tell us in this short, anonymous survey. We want to hear from you!

About the Author

Kristen M. Lopez is Connecticut Main Street Center’s Education & Training Director. With over 11 years of experience in economic development from various roles and industries across the United States, she has always worked with adults to achieve their goals through education. Kristen is an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer alum, a StartingBloc Fellow, and Next City Vanguard Fellow. She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Messiah University.

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Connecticut Main Street Center

P.O. Box 270
Hartford, CT 06141

© Connecticut Main Street Center 
P.O. Box 270, Hartford, CT 06141 | 860.280.2337