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Main Street: The Core of the Community

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We all know where our Main Streets are, but do we know what they are and why they matter? Whether they are named First Avenue or Water Street or Martin Luther King Boulevard, what they represent is universal. Main Street is the economic engine, the big stage, the core of the community. Our Main Streets tell us who we are and who we were, and how the past has shaped us. We do not go to bland suburbs or enclosed shopping malls to learn about our past, explore our culture, or discover our identity. Our Main Streets are the places of shared memory where people still come together to live, work, and play.

National Main Street Center

The fact that many people have started referring to 56th Ave W as "Main Street" embodies what many hope this part of town will become. A big part of the changing process will be the updating of the streetscape itself.  The Main Street Revitalization Project will provide much-needed updates to our downtown infrastructure and will improve mobility through and throughout the neighborhood for all types of transportation and for people of all abilities.

The project consists of the reconstruction of 4 street segments:

  • Main Street (56th) from 230th  to 236th
  • 236th from Main Street (56th) to the Transit Center
  • 232nd from Main Street to 58th
  • 234th from Main Street to 58th

The project will result in pedestrian and bike connections from downtown to the new Transit Center, Freeway Station, and planned light rail station at I-5, sustainable energy district infrastructure that will efficiently supply new buildings with thermal energy, undergrounding of all overhead utilities, associated utility improvements (water, sewer, storm), wide sidewalks with street trees and energy-efficient pedestrian lighting, bike lanes and improved ADA access. See the image above for a typical cross-section of 56th Ave W.

While the City has secured about $8 million in funding for the project, about $4 million is still needed. Included in this project is the preliminary design of Gateway Boulevard.

Design is currently underway by KPG, a design firm located in Seattle. The design process is expected to take about a year and once all funding is secured, construction should take 12-18 months.

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What Happened to Main Street? Here's more from the Main Street Center:

Before World War II, Main Street was the community's primary commercial hub. Downtown buildings usually had several tenants -- typically a ground-floor retailer and, frequently, several upper-floor offices or apartments; together, these tenants provided enough rent for property owners to keep their buildings in good condition. The presence of the post office, library, banks and local government offices added to the steady flow of people downtown. Not only was Main Street the center of the community's commercial life, it was also an important part of its social life; people thronged the streets on Saturday nights to meet friends, see a movie and window-shop.

In the past 40 years, America's downtowns have changed drastically. The creation of the interstate highway system and subsequent growth of suburban communities transformed the ways in which Americans live, work and spend leisure time. With improved transportation routes, people found it easier to travel longer distances to work or shop. Roads that once connected neighborhoods to downtown now carried residents to outlying shopping strips and regional malls. Throughout the nation, in town after town, the story repeated itself. Downtown businesses closed or moved to the mall, shoppers dwindled, property values and sales tax revenues dropped. Some downtowns sank under the weight of their own apathy. Neglected buildings, boarded-up storefronts and empty, trash-strewn streets gradually reinforced the public's perception that nothing was happening downtown, that nothing was worth saving there. People forgot how important their downtown and its historic commercial buildings were in reflecting their community's unique heritage.

In many communities downtown merchants and property owners, tried to halt this spiral of decline by imitating their competition -- the shopping mall. Their attempts to modernize downtown take the forms of pedestrian malls, covering traditional building fronts with aluminum slipcovers, and attaching huge, oversized signs on their buildings to attract attention. These well-meaning but usually ineffective methods did not stabilize downtown's decline, mostly because they did not address the fundamental problem -- that businesses did not change when the market did, and that people did not see the downtown as a destination for shopping any more. With the economic boom of the 1990s, Main Street also saw increased development occurring outside traditional areas, and the issue of "sprawl" with its uncontrolled growth and cookie cutter architecture that reflected neither a sense of place nor a sense of pride, and became an issue that most communities contend with today.

Facing these issues, over 1,600 communities have adopted the Main Street approach in the past 25 years to look again at Main Street, their heart of the community, to save its historic buildings, to revive its commercial core, to strengthen business, to control community-eroding sprawl, and keep a sense of place and community life in America.

Community Independent of Communal Places?

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