Organizing for Revitalization

Perhaps the first step in the revitalization process is the organizing process. You know how it goes— a few people get together and say they need to do something about their town. Usually they refer to how things were in the past when people walked four abreast down the street. But also, it could be a couple of people seeing potential and seizing the moment to plan some improvements for the future.

However the group is formed, and whether it is old timers or new blood, there is an initial situational analysis that needs to be completed. What is the situation? What is the current status? What is going on in the district? Those are the questions that should be asked and answered in the initial stages of revitalization.  I always like to “look at” the district for a long time. You can walk around, hang around, or just plain watch what is happening in the district to get a good feel for the foot traffic flow and the constraints to a good visit to the business district.

Developing a list of constraints and issues should be the first order of business. Prioritize the constraints and issues and assign value of importance to those items. Then the constraints and issues could be segregated into four categories: promotion, design, economic restructuring and organization … the four points of the main street process. Once this is accomplished it will give you the basis for a list of goals and objectives. 

“The town looks needs a face lift” would be a design goal whereas converting the electric system on the street from overhead to underground would be a design objective. If you have a number of people listing constraints and issues there are always people who will look in the “broad sense,” and people who tend to come up with more specific items. It almost always works that way, and with a little imagination, most of the items can be grouped together within the four-point approach.

When you address the organization point, one of the first questions to come up will be how to structure the revitalization. Should the revitalization have an organization? Should the organization be a nonprofit? Should the organization be a special services district? Do we want to hire a staff? Can we work this out through board participation? How many should be on the board, if there is a board? Should the organization seek the magical and mystical 501 C-3 status? All questions that will need to be answered …

For example, an organizational goal may be to form a non-profit organization. Organizational objectives listed under the goal could include applying for 501 C-3 status, organizing a Board of Directors, establishing financial controls and so on. These objectives should have time lines and milestones. It is good to plan for what could be accomplished during a five-year period.

Once you have gone through every point in the four-point process and assigned goals and objectives, it is time to develop a work plan. Many people start with an eighteen-month work plan that will constantly be revised to add new items and subtract out accomplished items. The work plan will need to be detailed to the point where all the tasks are laid out and assigned to different committee members and a paid staff person if there is one. The more detailed your plan, the better your plan.

I always like to create a work plan that is in an outline form and start with capital “A” and work my way down to small case a and later roman numerals. A very precise, very in-depth work plan is then ready to be approved by the organizing group or the board. This work can be encompass a lot of different things including visioning, strategic planning or another related plan.

When we were starting the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, Jim Mann put together a 20-page detailed work plan that convinced the then Department of Community Affairs to fund the organization. In the process, that work plan was handed over to our first director, Beth Spokas and she implemented it to perfection.

The plan stressed outreach to the communities because at the time the pay was not that great for managers and the turnover rate was high. Some were qualified to be a main street manager and some were not, and their range of skills varied. In most cases the plan pretty much nailed what Beth would be expected to provide. This enabled her to be prepared on visits to the towns.

The thing one must remember is that the documents that you create, goals and objectives or a work plan, are dynamic in nature and not a static document. The one mistake that most people make when they are starting a revitalization effort is to get a report from a consultant and leave it on the shelf. That is not the purpose of the report. If you hired someone to give you something, do not read it just once. Read it often. If you are preparing the goals and objectives, as an organization or group, it is helpful to have a work plan, because that is your plan of action.

Plan of Action … sounds nice, does it not? How you are going to proceed is out there for everyone to see or comment on. How you are going to get from “A” to “B”… “A” being your starting point and “B” being where you want to end up … on any issue. It is necessary to stick to the plan. I do not like to veer too far from the work plan but I am always open to amending the work plan. 

It is not good to take a scatter shot approach when you are revitalizing because it is a process. A group should build on each success and pretty soon those building blocks start to mean something. Take for example the desire to get a grant to fix the streetscape. In order to get a grant, you need an account to deposit the grant, in order to create the account you need an entity, in order to have an entity you need to determine if you are a for profit, nonprofit, or some kind of government entity. It is process, process, process and it if you organize correctly you will be able to utilize the process that you have created in order to, in turn, create revitalization.