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Volunteers step up to help with Main Street

More than a dozen Langley boosters have moved closer to affiliation with a national program that focuses on downtown revitalization.

They formed an interim board of directors and agreed on a name — Langley Main Street Association.

“It’s very preliminary, but we’re confident,” Kathleen Waters, the new board president, said this past week.

Main Street is a self-help, nonprofit approach to downtown commercial rehabilitation. It has been used by 1,800 cities and towns in 40 states, with the help of the National Main Street Center and statewide downtown programs.

Since 1991, the Washington State Main Street Program has helped local communities create 11,810 jobs, 3,721 new and expanded businesses and private investment of $413 million in commercial infrastructure.

The state program is assisting 109 projects in various stages of completion, and 11 others that have been finished, including sections of Port Townsend and Mount Vernon.

The state group provides no funds for a local Main Street project, but offers guidance in organization, promotion, design and economics, and assists in the pursuit of grant money and tax breaks.

“We have to be totally self-sustaining,” Waters said. “We have to generate our own funds.”

Main Street focuses on arts, culture and commerce, with special emphasis on historic preservation, Waters said.

“Its goal is to keep an area’s original charm and appeal,” she said. “It’s a perfect fit for Langley.”

For years, some in Langley have been looking into Main Street to determine if it would benefit the city. The latest effort began with a meeting in January.

About 50 residents, property owners, merchants and city officials gathered at Langley United Methodist Church to hear from Sarah Hansen, state Main Street coordinator, who showed slides of successful urban projects from throughout the United States.

Hansen encouraged formation of a local grassroots organization to start the process.

She said Langley, with its seaside location and advanced awareness of the importance of signage and enticing storefront displays, is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the program at minimum expense.

The new board is heavily flavored by the downtown Langley business community. Waters operates a small business near the marina. Other officers are Realtor Leanne Finlay, vice president; Kimberly Tiller, owner of Whidbey Island Soap Company and a longtime advocate for Main Street, treasurer; and Mary-Elizabeth Rosenberg, owner of Mike’s Place restaurant, secretary.

“I’m really enthused about this,” Tiller said. “I’m sure it will help the economy of Langley.”

“Overall, we feel we need more visibility, more cohesiveness and more strength as a community,” Rosenberg said.

“We’ve got a beautiful town that’s absolutely delightful,” she added. “We want to preserve what’s here. The goal is never to take away.”

Waters and Rosenberg said Main Street won’t overlap with the efforts other local organizations, such as the Langley Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is focused on Langley as a whole, while Main Street will focus on the downtown core, Waters said.

“There’s an enormous opportunity for collaboration,” Waters said.

Mary Ann Mansfield, chamber president, agreed, calling Main Street “an absolutely wonderful program.”

“I don’t see any conflict between us,” Mansfield said. “We both have our strengths and weaknesses, and we’ll work well together doing what we can for Langley going forward.”

She said some chamber members already are involved with Main Street, and “there’s a nice flow back and forth.”

“I believe in ‘we,’ and this is a ‘we’ situation,” Mansfield said. “The more ‘we’ that gets out and gets involved, the better it’s going to be.”

Waters said the new board will meet weekly, concentrating on obtaining nonprofit status and Main Street affiliation, developing a business plan and establishing a membership fee and a fundraising strategy.

She said that within three to six months, the interim board would be replaced by a more permanent one, and a project manager will be hired.

“We plan to be open to the public and very specific, with many, many members, volunteers and committees all working to bring new business to Langley,” Waters said.

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