Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

Revitalizing Minnesota’s Main Streets

Fairbault, MN.

Faribault, MN.

Across Minnesota, many small towns and communities are facing a similar plight—businesses are moving out of the historic downtown districts, either unable to compete with the big box stores or unable to find young people willing to acquire their businesses, forcing them to close.

Enter Minnesota Main Street – a proven, comprehensive strategy that helps communities create new jobs and businesses, while preserving their historic downtowns. “We help communities revitalize their business districts,” said Emily Northey, Minnesota Main Street coordinator. “Through our program they discover they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The same market forces are impacting these cities and towns, but are impacting them in different ways. We help them figure out what sets them apart and what they need to do to take advantage of their uniqueness.”

Five Minnesota cities are currently designated Minnesota Main Street communities: Faribault, New Ulm, Red Wing, Willmar and Winona. The reinvestment statistics achieved by these cities are impressive. For every $1 spent on running the local Main Street Program, more than $16 are reinvested in the community. The results are tangible as well. During the first three quarters of 2013, these communities completed 20 building rehabilitation projects, valued at over $1.4 million. They also created 32 full-time jobs, and three businesses expanded while staying in their downtown districts.


“The downtowns of our communities are the face we present to visitors and to residents.”
~ Emily Northey, Minnesota Main Street coordinator


Northey credits the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund for jump-starting the Minnesota Main Street program in 2010. With continued Legacy Amendment support, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota and the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) with other partner organizations are expanding Minnesota Main Street in 2014. One area of particular focus is increasing the number of training sessions offered to communities across the state. New sessions include practical topics for revitalization, such as how to generate more activity on downtown sidewalks, business succession planning and how to attract new businesses. In 2013, more than two dozen Associate Member communities received access to networking opportunities and discounted admissions to trainings. The interest and success stories continue to grow.

“The downtowns of our communities are the face we present to visitors and to residents,” said Northey. “Historic buildings are the most unique tangible assets of these communities. What’s more, the buildings are flexible—all different uses can occur. At Minnesota Main Street, we help each downtown become the best downtown it can be. And the best part? It’s working.”

Minnesota Main Street is a program that provides the tools, training and networking that communities need to revitalize their business districts. The Minnesota Historical Society State Historic Preservation Office and Preservation Alliance of Minnesota partner with other organizations, such as GreenStep Cities, Minnesota Design Team, University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality and the University of Minnesota Tourism Center, to implement the program. For more information go to www.mnpreservation.org/programs/main-street/