Main Street Magic: Developing Downtowns for 20 Years

Photo courtesy of Farmington DDA/David Lewinsky

A commitment made two decades ago to treat Oakland County’s downtowns as assets has more than paid off as Main Street Oakland County marks its 20th anniversary.

Main Street is an economic development program designed to help local governments maximize the economic potential and preserve the heritage of historic downtowns that are the heart of their communities. Oakland County has the first and only such countywide coordinating program in the United States.

Currently, 25 historic downtowns and heritage corridors participate in Main Street, giving them access to experts in planning, training, technology, historic preservation, architectural design and other resources.

Rochester was the first community to sign up in 2000. Main Street has made all the difference, says Kristi Trevarrow, executive director at the Rochester Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

“It has helped us dial into a lot of resources not typically available to us,” Trevarrow says.

Royal Oak is one of the Oakland County Main Street participants. Photo by Brad Ziegler

Trevarrow and her marketing coordinator used some Main Street education funds to attend an Experiential Marketing Summit in Las Vegas, where they garnered tips from other industries that they could bring back home to apply.

Farmington joined in 2002, and with Main Street’s support, the city was able to create a more walkable downtown. A farmers market and public art were among the highlights, says Kate Knight, executive director of the Farmington DDA.

“What they offer is as simple or complex as you need,” Knight says, noting that Main Street created a public relations campaign to survive a construction project that would shut down roads, pinching business traffic.

The Main Street program has never been stronger, says Oakland County Planning Manager Bret Rasegan. He was a key player in the initial launch and oversees it with John Bry, Main Street program coordinator and principal planner.

Bry has forged partnerships in the past two years with the business community, including Genisys Credit Union and Flagstar Bank, which donated money to create grants for Main Street communities.

Even new communities appreciate the benefits. When Vivian Carmody became executive director of the Berkley DDA, joining Main Street was her first order of business in 2018.

“The Main Street model is so successful,” Carmody says. “I wanted Berkley to be a part of that.”

Written by Rene Wisely, this article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Oakland County Prosper magazine.