Almost one year ago, I wrote in a CMSC Blog: “As Connecticut transitions from our initial, deliberate steps in managing this public health and resultant economic crisis, we are now in the forward-looking and proactive recovery process. Our ultimate goal is to ensure we have more resilient communities that are better positioned to weather adversity.”

While that declaration of intent has not changed, there is no doubt that this difficult time has gone on much longer than any of us would have imagined. After a false start, returning to in-person visits in the early fall, I had to once again work 100% remotely – for my own safety and the safety of others. I am so happy to be fully vaccinated and visiting our Main Streets throughout the state!

You may be asking in the absence of in-person visits and events, how has CMSC made an impact? How are we positioning our organization and Connecticut’s Main Streets for success? Valid questions! I’d like to answer by giving you a bit of an update, organized by our efforts this year in the four areas below.

POLICY & PARTNERSHIPSWe are leveraging relationships with Main Street advocates and bringing awareness to the needs of Connecticut’s Main Streets.

  • Pedestrian Safety in Downtown (HB5429) – Governor Lamont signed into law this bill improving pedestrian safety at crosswalks and allowing for the establishment of pedestrian safety zones in our downtowns, which enhances both the safety and economic vitality of our Main Streets.
  • Historic Mixed-Use Building Task Force (HB6606) – Passed in the House and Senate, this bill takes legislative action to study the impediments to bringing historic mixed-use buildings to life. CMSC has been working for several years on shining a light on the barriers to mixed-use development. With the creation of this task force, the legislature is publicly mobilizing to address this enormous challenge in Connecticut communities both large and small.
  • Strategic Partnership with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities – We are increasing the breadth of CMSC’s impact through this partnership with CCM, actively engaging municipal leaders through our advocacy, education, and communications programs. And CMSC has been asked to serve on the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Advisory Committee of CCM, to provide guidance to municipalities on the use of ARPA funds from the federal government.
  • State of CT support for CMSC via an annual line-item appropriation. CMSC is one of the few Main Street Coordinating Programs in the country that is not currently supported in this manner. We will continue to enhance our growing relationship with DECD, but this state line-item appropriation is key to growing our organization, and is evidence of our state legislators’ growing awareness of the impact of CMSC and for healthy downtowns that fuel our state’s prosperity. With increased support from the State of Connecticut, we plan to increase our high-touch visitation program ideally by adding a Field Services Specialist to our great CMSC team!

STATEWIDE GO-TO FOR ALL THINGS MAIN STREETThrough programs and the expanded www.ctmainstreet.org website, we champion Connecticut’s Main Streets and lead knowledge around quality-of-life and place-based economic development.

  • With the pandemic-related temporary cessation of in-person visits, we leaned into creating a robust series of monthly webinars focused on Recovery & Resiliency on Main Street. In selecting topics that support this theme, we responded to your requests for knowledge and featured experts from our member communities and professional affiliates as topic experts. And if you’ve missed a session, or would like to share with others, we record all of our programs so you can view them at any time!
  • Preview of next year’s programs: We will continue our Recovery & Resiliency theme next fall and throughout spring 2022. We have great programs planned, including: The Future of Main Street Retail; Funding Your Downtown Renaissance; Small Things that Make a Big Difference; and our Spotlight on Main Street events (in person!) in Coventry Village and New Milford.

INCREASING VISIBILITYWe are crafting a compelling and integrated communications program that seamlessly blends our website, social media, blogs, how-to’s, and resources & guides to help solve problems and convey the importance of healthy downtowns.

  • CMSC Blog – Our monthly blog features local expertise, shares information and resources, tells you what’s trending in Main Street, and more!
  • Social media – Our robust Facebook and Twitter presence shares your downtown stories and adds the Main Street voice to issues being discussed on the statewide level.
  • This summer, we will unveil our new ctmainstreet.org website. It will be user-friendly, better organized, and visually stunning!

ORGANIZATIONAL SUSTAINABILITYCMSC’s board and staff spent this year working together to facilitate the strategic alignment of organizational sustainability and our purpose/mission to build a lasting organization that is stable, flexible, and impactful.

  • Led by our newly formed Stewardship Committee, which focuses on aligning CMSC’s mission and funding strategy to ensure a robust, forward-thinking organization, we are exploring how we can reinvigorate our organization to be a pioneer of the intersectionality of Economic Development, Historic Preservation, Sustainability, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. This is complex but critical work – and we have the board and staff ready to dive into this in order to help all downtowns and Main Streets throughout our state.
  • Our Governance Committee has been cultivating and recruiting board candidates, guided by what we may be lacking in expertise and diversity of thought, age, geography, and cultural, racial, and gender identity. We look forward to welcoming new directors in the coming months.

As I return to visiting our communities, I see clear evidence of pent-up demand for the experience of strolling, shopping, dining, and gathering on Main Street. I see examples of wonderful placemaking, including murals and streateries (defined by Urban Dictionary as “a fortunate child of Covid, symbolic of human adaptation to harsh conditions, as a street converted to an eatery”) that invite people to return to downtown. Our collective work now is to help Main Streets and their small businesses continue to recover and become even more resilient.

 

About the Author

Associate Director of Connecticut Main Street Center, Kimberley Parsons-Whitaker works closely with municipalities and downtown organizations throughout Connecticut, assisting local leaders and citizens in their efforts to bring their Main Streets back to life.  She collaborates with State officials and experts in placemaking and economic development in efforts to bring much needed resources and expertise to Connecticut’s Main Streets.

Kim is a 2018 graduate of the Leadership Greater Hartford Quest program and serves on the Board of Directors of the CT Economic Development Association, where she is co-chair of the Best Practices Committee. Since 2013, Kim has been a member of the Design Review Advisory Committee for the Town of West Hartford.