By now, the eight main streets programs that serve both established and still-growing commercial corridors are used to getting their funding slashed. Last year, their allocation was nearly zeroed out under Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s gap-closing measures, but last minute rallying got it mostly restored.
This year, they’ll need to fight for it all over again—a $1.88 million cut to neighborhood commercial revitalization funding includes several hundred thousand dollars that had funded staff for the main streets programs, as well as the “clean teams” that pick up garbage and beautify the streetscape. And Main Streets leaders are not happy about it.
“It’s time to stop all the rhetoric about small businesses being the backbone of the economy and the creators of jobs and start to enact policy and craft budgets that indicate you actually believe that,” writes Pat Mitchell of North Capitol Main Streets, which got $224,000 last year (including the clean team funding). NCMS landed a $21,000 Neighborhood Investment Fund grant, but will have to fundraise for the rest. “Main Street programs are the only buffer—in undeveloped communities that have not experienced the development craze as business districts and communities that have received major tax incentives and other development tools to grow—between staying in business and shutting the doors.”
Shaw Main Streets is putting together a fundraising plan, but coordinator Alex Padro worries that if the city terminates its Main Street program altogether, it won’t be able to use the name anymore—the program is licensed to states by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Martin Smith, of Barracks Row Main Streets, recalls that funding for the programs has never been completely cut, despite multiple threats to its existence. Even if enough remains to maintain the programs at a baseline level, the other funding sources they’ve drawn upon—like the Department of Housing and Community Development’s facade improvement program and the District Department of Transportation’s transportation enhancement grants—have also been substantially reduced.
This is particularly difficult for areas that have no Business Improvement Districts. Barracks Row and H Street benefit from the activities of the Capitol Hill BID, for example, and Adams Morgan has both a BID and a Main Streets program. But places like Deanwood, Congress Heights, North Capitol, Shaw, and Dupont are essentially on their own.