Alberta Connections Magazine
By Marylu Walters
The Main Street process includes a visioning exercise and drawing up design guidelines. Even school children get involved.
All photos copyright Alberta Connections Magazine.
Wanted: Alberta communities interested in revitalizing their historic
downtowns, improving community pride, and even attracting new
residents and tourists.
The Alberta Main Street Programme has openings for qualifying communities
to launch projects based on restoring the facades of their historic
downtown commercial buildings and developing a long-term vision and
strategy for marketing and economic development.
Since its beginning in the mid-1980s, the program has involved more than
20 communities—from Nanton and Vilna to Medicine Hat's North
Railway Exchange and Calgary's Inglewood, says Alberta Main Street
Programme Chief Merinda Conley.
Those that have completed their programs are already counting the benefits
in more shopping traffic downtown and lower retail vacancy rates,
"The changes can be quite immense. You've made the downtown more viable,
so it not only maintains existing businesses but brings in new
"A lot of Main Street communities are becoming attractive to people who
want to move there to live, especially seniors who value older
historic things. We're also seeing an influx of people who want to
use them as bedroom communities. People want to come into a shop and
know the shop owner, and many are looking for safer places to raise
The program is open to communities with a population of 50,000 or less
and to older communities within larger municipalities with a
significant proportion of commercial buildings dating from their
early development. The program focuses on restoring facades 50 or
more years old. Projects such as Ponoka (see
here) have included
architecture from the modern period.
The Alberta Historical Resources Foundation provides funding from
Alberta Lotteries for various aspects of a Main Street project,
including building restoration and a project coordinator's salary on
a cost share basis. Participating communities sign an agreement with
the foundation and commit to a seven-step process that includes
undertaking a visioning exercise and drawing up design guidelines
for future restoration and development. The program focuses on the
four key variables of downtown revitalization: organization,
marketing, design and economic development.
It is important for a community to learn how to market its revitalized
main street, Conley says. "When project funding ends, people remember
what they learned and can carry on with their marketing. They have
an image now and can market that image and everyone benefits."
Projects last three years and may be renewed once. Communities that have
completed their programs remain in the Alberta Main Street
Conley says. "We do some joint advertising with them and work
together with them in any way we can."
Her office is preparing a detailed, hands-on information package that
will show communities how to create a Main Street project from
beginning to end. The package will be available free to Main Street
participants and at cost to other interested communities.
Merinda Conley, The Alberta Main Street