New Main Street Program Committed to Revitalizing Local Community

SBADowntown Scranton is experiencing a boost in activity thanks to the efforts of the Main Street Scranton program. To learn more about how this national program is impacting the growth and successes of the local downtown community MetroAction interviewed Lisa Sauder of Scranton Tomorrow’s Main Street program to find out more about the program that has the community so excited.

The day of the interview, Ms. Sauder’s office was a bustling scene with the phone ringing off the hook. Almost every call was someone inquiring about the details of downtown events such as the lighting of the Christmas tree in Courthouse Square, details on the decorated holiday windows of many downtown businesses, and even a few calls from committee members who participate on the Main Street program with ideas for new initiatives.

It appeared these calls are an indication that, even in its early stages of operation, the Main Street program has already been a success.

The “Main Street” approach, implemented in over 1,600 communities across the United States, is a comprehensive downtown development program that started 21 years ago. The program is a practical economic development strategy implemented worldwide with all initiatives stemming from local issues and concerns. Main Street program was launched by Scranton Tomorrow in October 2009 and has a five-point approach, which includes committees focusing on aspects of organization, design, economic restructuring, promotion and “safe, clean, and green.”

During the interview, Desiree learned quite a lot about this impressive program which has been able to instill a sense of community in an ever-emerging vibrant downtown.

Desiree: So Lisa, honestly, where do you find the time to operate these five approaches?
Lisa: Well, the program is completely committee driven and I have to say we are fortunate to have so many great volunteers stepping up to dedicate time and talent to this program.

Desiree: Can you tell me what made “Main Street” choose Scranton as one of the program locations?
Lisa: Honestly, it is a very competitive process. I think what helped Scranton were the numerous programs already in place with a lot of groundwork already laid by organizations such as Scranton Tomorrow, MetroAction, the Scranton Chamber of Commerce, the Scranton Business Alliance and the City of Scranton. It was putting all of the pieces together in the application and showing the potential Scranton has.

Desiree: The program certainly does sound like it has a lot going for it. What type of response have you received from the community so far?
Lisa: It is phenomenal! I see volunteers stepping up to dedicate their time and talent to these five committees. So much has already been done but there is much more to do and I know the community sees that. With new activity downtown from The Commonwealth Medical College to the renovation of the 500 block of Lackawanna Avenue, the timing is perfect to launch this initiative and the momentum is there. Having a strong team of volunteers is exactly what this program needs. It is also the ability for the committee members to engage people such as the business owners, avid supporters and people throughout the community to have a good vision of what they want their downtown to look like. Ultimately, the program empowers the stakeholders in downtown to make a difference and the overall combined effort of everyone participating is truly what makes Scranton such a great community.

Desiree: With all of these initiatives, committees and programs, what are some of your specific goals for the future of the downtown?
Lisa: There are so many goals. With five committees, each one will have their own goals to accomplish. So far though, we have already implemented a few as a direct result of the program such as our FAM Tours and our Tokens for Meters program.

Desiree: I admit, you have me guessing, what exactly is a FAM Tour?
Lisa: They are Familiarization Tours where a group of Main Street committee members and people who represent the community such as staff at the hotel front desks, go on a tour of the many amazing things already in the downtown. They are telling people about these attractions, but many never experienced them for themselves. So we took them to sights in the downtown that they can now recommend to guests and visitors looking to spend time in the downtown. We have already down a couple of these tours and plan to do others in the future based on their success.

Desiree: Wow, count me in for one of those FAM Tours! Tell me more about what the Tokens for Meters Program is about?
Lisa: One thing we want to try to do is simple programs that have immediate impact on the community and economy. How many times have you gone shopping downtown and realized you don’t have change for the meter to park? Well we are working with many downtown businesses to offer this program where they can provide tokens for people to park that want to shop in the downtown.

Desiree: Lisa, I have to say, this is all wonderful to see in our downtown. How can people get involved in the Main Street program?
Lisa: Anyone can participate in the program whether they are helping at an event, joining a committee or simply being a cheerleader for the downtown. Just going out there and spreading the word about all of the great things happening in the downtown is something everyone can do to help.

Ultimately, this is an ongoing program that will have changing challenges and opportunities over the years. This isn’t a sprint, but a marathon and we are in it for the duration.