Brunswick a finalist for national downtown revitalization award

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BRUNSWICK — The Brunswick Downtown Association has made it to the final round of contenders for The Great American Main Street Award.

Municipalities across the country apply for the honor, given by the Main Street America organization each year. It rewards a community’s efforts to revitalize its commercial district. 

The announcement that the BDA made it to the final 10 towns in contention was made Nov. 9 at A Toast to Main Street, an event also focused on downtown revitalization. The event, held in Westbrook, was co-hosted by the Maine Development Foundation and Discover Downtown Westbrook.

Debora King, executive director of the BDA, said the organization is very excited about making it so far into the process, which began with an application in June.

King said she was notified in September that the Brunswick group had made it into the top 20 and received word last month that it had reached the next step. She added that in addition to The Great American Main Street Award, the BDA is also in the running for two other honors from Main Street America.

Winners are recognized each spring at the Main Street Now Conference hosted by Main Street America.

“We’re very excited, it was quite an arduous process to get the application together,” King said. “We felt this year was a great year, we’re just very excited to have been recognized at all.”

Along with answering a series of questions about the organization’s major achievements this year, King said the application also required testimonies from local businesses and letters of support from the community.

King said BDA has seen a marked increase in attendance at its events, particularly in its Music on the Mall series this summer, which averaged between 400 and 700 concert-goers. She added the BDA has expanded other programs too, such as the 2nd Friday Brunswick series, and is working on projects including a Brunswick-themed Monopoly game.

“I think people are just really excited about what we’re doing and are being incredibly supportive in terms of participation,” King said. “We’re constantly on the outlook for really cool things to do.”

Approximately 150 people attended A Toast to Main Street, which featured a variety of state and national speakers. The discussion focused on downtown revitalization nationally, with talk about Maine cities and towns woven throughout.

Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of Maine Development Foundation, discussed the importance of embracing change in Maine. He said it’s vital for towns and cities to move forward.

“The only way to hold on to what we hold dear is to change,” Breen said.

The keynote speaker, Ed McMahon, agreed. He is the chairman of the board of the National Main Street Center.
“There is no place in America that will stay special by accident,” McMahon said.
His 45-minute presentation focused on how downtowns can grow successfully and attract more visitors and residents. He showed before and after photos of several cities across the country that revitalized their downtowns, and said the key is to make downtowns unique and memorable.
“Successful communities are distinctive communities,” he said. “The more towns in Maine come to look like every town in America, the less reason there is to go there.”
McMahon also said cities and towns need to protect their assets while also improving them. 
“Saving the historic buildings of Maine saves the heart and soul of Maine,” he said. “Saving history saves your economy. Tourists won’t go to a city or town that lost its soul.” 

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Maine Street in downtown Brunswick.