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Posted April 25, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Front Royal covets Main Street status

By Linwood Outlaw III -- loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Virginia's Main Street program has been a driving factor behind the revitalization of downtown commercial districts statewide, and officials are hopeful that Front Royal will soon join the club.

Jeff Sadler, a program manager for the Main Street initiative, gave a presentation on the program and its benefits Thursday night at the Royal Cinemas movie theater.

The downtown area is a "prominent center of employment," an ideal location for independent businesses and an important part of the local tax base, Sadler told town and Warren County officials who gathered for the presentation.

Of the 21 designated Main Street communities -- which include Winchester -- the smallest is nearby Berryville, Sadler said.

The program, established in 1985 to address the need for revitalization and management of smaller downtown areas, sticks to four main strategies: attractive design, promotion, economic restructuring and organization. The program models the approach of the National Trust's Main Street Center and focuses on historic preservation, "with the outcome of creating more jobs," Sadler said.

But often some localities are dissuaded from participating because it is a long-term process and prior attempts have failed, Sadler said.

"Part of it is just frustration. Some people get bored. And sometimes people just don't have it in them, or the community is not ready for it."

Town officials submitted an application on Front Royal's behalf in April 2007, but they came up a few points short of reaching the target score necessary for acceptance. Rounds of applications are conducted every three to four years as state resources permit, officials said.

Located 70 miles west of Washington, Front Royal certainly has the potential to achieve Main Street status, Sadler said. Its downtown area already has a variety of restaurants and specialty shops.

"The town itself is the right size for this program," he said.

To be eligible, a locality must have a population of no more than 75,000 people. It must also have at least 50 commercial enterprises and 70 structures in its proposed Main Street district.

Since the program began, more than $488 million in private funds has been invested in Main Street communities. The program has also created more than 4,400 new businesses and 12,600 jobs, Sadler said. There are more than 70 Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development commercial district affiliates.

Officials say among the keys to making the program a success are an independent organization of stakeholders, aggressive management and creative marketing campaigns.

"Nobody wants to go someplace that's declining," Sadler said.

Jennifer McDonald, executive director of the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority, said the Main Street program "could help the facade" of downtown buildings.

"There's a lot of positives that it could bring," she said. "I think we have a terrific downtown. I think our downtown is very active. We have a lot of active merchants. ... We feel like it's on the right track. We feel like the right people are in place and making things happen."

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