In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Martha Collins, a revitalization coordinator with the City of Fort Worth, discusses how the city is joining the Main Street America pilot program, which aims to help bolster communities that have been disinvested over time. 

Fort Worth Local Development Corporation is funding the $650,000 pilot project from  money it made from property it sold on Blue Mound Road. The city holds and manages industrial property that is donated to the City through the Fort Worth Land Development Corporation. Fort Worth Local Development Corporation has a $110,000 contract for three years with the Main Street America program.  

Listen to Seth Bodine’s conversation with Martha Collins about the Main Street America Program coming to Fort Worth.

Seth Bodine: Thanks for taking time to speak with me. First question is, what is the Main Street America program?

Martha Collins: Main Street America, they are a leader of revitalization in the U.S. You’ll see them across the U.S. in big cities like D.C. and whatnot. And so when we were exploring how are we, with certain amount of resources and things like that, going to revitalize and make meaningful impact in some of these neighborhoods. We knew that we needed to not only look at some models and people who have been in this space for a while, but also how can we find someone whose framework is really translatable? 

Applying for the Main Street America Program 

  • Applications for Fort Worth’s Main Street Pilot Program are open until 8 p.m. CST Friday, June 6. Applications can be submitted here. 
  • In order to be eligible, the area must have a majority of its commercial district in a Neighborhood Empowerment Zone. Special consideration is given to areas in a revitalization target area or an urban village. 
  • Two application workshops will be from noon-2 p.m. and 5:30-7:30 p.m. May 11. 
  • More information about qualifying for the program can be found here. 

So we’re really excited about this program. We’re bringing them in for a three-year pilot program in two corridors in our city to really focus on some of our underserved neighborhood business corridors, because those are kind of the vitality and the life of every neighborhood. A lot of times you’ll see the small businesses people really take pride in, the places that they can go shop and work and network and have coffee in their neighborhoods. Our hope with this program is we’ll select two managing organizations with the hope of standing up kind of a community quarterback for each neighborhood. 

We know that we as a city can’t necessarily be on the ground talking to every single business every single day. But the best revitalization work that we’ve seen happen is when you have somebody like that leading the effort, who knows the people, knows the heart of the neighborhood. And they’re the ones kind of helping to shape that. Main Street America will come in and give training to not only the managing organization, but any community members that are interested in it. On top of that, they’ll go through a transformation strategy process. In that transformation strategy, they’ll identify some key goals, metrics and things to help move the community forward, including the community and including the city and kind of that great dialogue and informed conversation. 

And then the city will come alongside them with program dollars to kind of help move the needle and take that strategy and put it to action. So again, three years, and we’re hoping to see some significant movement in that. We will be the only major city in Texas with this kind of program, which we’re very excited about, and only one of six programs in the country. And even though we’re one of six, I would say again, it’s a very customizable framework, so it’ll still be very unique to Fort Worth and to the neighborhoods that get to participate.

Bodine: How does a community come to a point where it needs to be revitalized? And where do you see that in Fort Worth?

Collins: A lot of years of disinvestment. Certain areas, maybe a highway will move and now the main traffic goes through another part of town. There’s a lot of different reasons, different people can abandon and leave the neighborhood. There’s a lot of reasons that have led to disinvestment in different neighborhoods.

A big piece is in the southeast and east side of Fort Worth, but we have pockets of it everywhere. In terms of revitalization, I like to think of it as these areas are just areas of potential. There’s so much character and so much heart behind the communities that are still there. And so I think really the heart behind revitalization is not only looking at it from a lens of equity.

There has been disinvestment in the past, but how can we really come alongside and champion those voices, champion the hearts of the people and what they really want to see, but also come up with a realistic vision of moving things forward? We could see that in a lot of the communities again, on the east Lancaster, Evans and Rosedale. Race Street is a great candidate, Como. That is just to name a couple of them. There are a lot more than that. I’m excited to see who ends up applying and who kind of really wants this framework and wants this opportunity in their neighborhoods?

Bodine: Isn’t the Main Street program usually used for rural towns? And how has it been applied to cities? How do you imagine it being applied to Fort Worth?

Collins: T hat’s one thing we definitely looked into before when we were exploring Main Street America. Actually back in 2017, they started their big cities program. 

This was formerly known as Urban Main, where they really took this framework, what they realize is how adaptable it really is, to any kind of community and it adapts well, to an urban corridor context. We’ve seen great success in cities like D.C. and even urban neighborhoods in Chicago, and really how adaptable it is. I’m very hopeful that this is kind of exactly what we need to kind of just get to a place where we’re making actionable steps towards revitalization.

Bodine: In communities that haven’t seen investment in a long time, what’s the biggest obstacle for a community to be revitalized?

Collins: The biggest obstacle that areas face when it comes to revitalization is a very complex thing, because every community, again, is unique. One is density. We really need that population density. That’s kind of why we promote affordable housing, dense housing, multifamily housing in areas, because you have to have that kind of population to be able to support retail. 

There’s a lot of things that we can point to in terms of safety concerns. And really, what we’ve been looking at in this department that I think is a unique opportunity is they look at specific data. And a lot of times, what they’ll do is, they’ll look at a one mile, three mile, five mile radius from the point of which they’re interested in maybe developing, and they’re going to look at stats from that point of view. But what we saw as a great example, here in Fort Worth, is Renaissance Square. 

They said, “OK, this would never work,” in the past, and what they did there, they ended up planting something like a Walmart that was actually one of the top performing Walmarts in the nation. And so I’m hoping that we can kind of look at some of this new data and see what we can do and work with developers to kind of mitigate some of the risk, because a lot of that is a big piece is developers will look at that space and ask: Is this going to work in their neighborhood?

Bodine:When someone applies for Main Street,  how did they work with them to develop a system to revitalize the community?

Collins: The first thing they do is they come in and they get to know the community. They go through a series of trainings with the community kind of saying: Hey, this is how you look at your market. These are some proven ways to help organize boards and to engage volunteers. These are some proven ways to really help promote your district. How can we get you with a website and let’s get to the heart of who you are as a community so we can promote you in the right way. 

They’re really known for their four point approach, which is economic vitality, looking at small businesses, looking at jobs in the area. What kind of economic items can they focus on? Two is promotion: What’s the story that people know about your neighborhood? And who do you want to be? Who do you want to be known as? That’s really tapping into the history of an area and making sure that that’s told and not forgotten. 

Next is organization. How do we organize our boards? How do we effectively run as a community? So exploring and training on that. And then the last is design: What does it feel like to walk into your district? Is it a welcoming place? Is it a beautiful place? Does it feel safe? Do we have places to gather, to linger, to hang out? Here’s some proven methods. What do you think will work best in your neighborhood, and from that, they’ll come together, they will make a transformation strategy that reflects all of those points customized to the neighborhood, for them to move the needle forward.

Bodine: What’s the big hope with this program?

Collins: At the end of the day, as the city, we’re not always going to know all the perspectives, and even this organization, maybe you won’t know all the perspectives, but it’s a chance to kind of level with the community and allow them to take a leadership role, for the city to come alongside them in that way. We hope to see the right kind of investment in the city, or in the neighborhoods. We hope to see new development that aligns with the community values and the things they want to see.

We want to see more funding to come into these neighborhoods. Foundations that maybe now have access to have those conversations with the community or developers who are interested, they have a point to go to where they feel like, okay, this is a representative board, really creating an organization that doesn’t just represent property owners, or doesn’t just represent developers or just represent neighborhoods. 

But it’s a place for hopefully all those voices to come together. A place for the city to engage in a meaningful conversation. I hope, eventually, we’ll have these vibrant districts that are welcoming to both the neighborhood and feel like the neighborhood owns it, but also kind of open to visitors that people really feel like they’re getting a taste of authentic Fort Worth. 

Bodine: Anything else that you’d like to add? 

Collins: Our goal for the program long term is that we do find success in these two neighborhoods, and that hopefully, we’ll be able to extend this framework across the city, and where we really have neighborhoods that feel empowered, and like they have an organization that represents them.  

The hope of the program is we’re coming in as a city to help provide funds not only to give them training, but to help support them organizationally. And specifically, that looks like giving funding towards a full time staff person that would help to run the transformation strategy and become that community champion that can become what we’re calling a community quarterback. 

Besides that, we’ll come in with program funding, to help support those initiatives that come out of the strategy that that quarterback will be championing and the community will be championing. At the end of year three, we hope that they’ll kind of be a standalone organization that they now have the tools to be able to fundraise and you’ll have the tools and the capacity to kind of run things on their own. 

The city can just be able to come in along the way supporting them. And the idea would be that we become a full Main Street coordinating city, where we can then add more corridors and it would be a program that would be spread across the city and in any of the neighborhoods that really feel like this framework would benefit them.

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

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Seth BodineBusiness Reporter

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....