Excellence on Main Award

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City Block Program

Awardee: Downtown Bellingham Partnership

Award: Organizational Excellence

Year: 2023

City: Bellingham

The Organizational Excellence Award is an annual award that recognizes excellence in building a strong downtown organization while achieving consensus and cooperation among stakeholder groups. The Downtown Bellingham Partnership (DBP) received the 2023 Organizational Excellence Award due to their efforts to engage downtown stakeholders through their City Block Program.

Born out of challenging post-pandemic conditions in downtown Bellingham, the City Block Program was launched in April 2022. DBP staff divided the downtown into districts, each represented by one DBP staff member and two business owners. These City Block leaders are responsible for engaging the business and property owners in their designated district—working together to care for shared spaces, organize advocacy efforts, and foster communication between participants, with the DBP, and with the city government. Through the program, new communication channels have been forged where there was previously frustration and disconnect.

District meetings typically have between 10 to 20 businesses owners and nonprofits in attendance. Each meeting starts with a reflection on the positive things they have noticed in the last month and might also include guest speakers or time to plan together. There have already been some positive tangible outcomes of the increased contact and communication, including collaboration on an advocacy campaign related to drug distribution issues, the launch of the Commercial Street Block Party series, and implementing alleyway improvements, just to name a few.

While still a new program for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, the City Block Program is already fostering a culture of volunteerism, inclusivity, and community engagement, where the Main Street program isn’t working for—but rather with—the community to co-create downtown.

Excellence on Main Award

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Centralia Block Parties

Awardee: Centralia Downtown Association

Award: Organizational Excellence

Year: 2022

City: Centralia

Realizing that their quarterly meetings were stale and that they needed a more appealing event in order to draw more people in – which was their ultimate goal – the Centralia Downtown Association (CDA) flipped their traditional meetings inside out and created a Block Party series that includes food, entertainment, and information about the CDA and downtown. They broke downtown into quadrants – hosting one event in each quadrant throughout the year – and  designated Block Captains in charge of rallying energy and participation around their section’s hosted event. Each of the four events had a $200 budget to help with food and entertainment, but each Block Captain also received an enthusiastic response of donations to host their section’s event.

Even in their pilot year of this new model, Centralia’s Block Parties have brought in 100-200 community members participating in each event. Participants include business owners, elected officials, economic development partners, residents, and more.

Each Block Party highlights what that specific area brings to downtown – which businesses are there, improvements to the neighborhood, and any partnerships emerging for future growth. At one Block Party, the guest speaker from the nearby community college shared about a  new sports complex that will impact downtown; at another, the Economic Alliance of Lewis County provided information about an early learning center opening on that end of downtown. The summer Block Party honored a legacy business in the district.

There are many aspects of organizational excellence at play here – willingness to change, a commitment to bringing more people in through education and fun, putting the spotlight on both the organization and the district, and showing value to elected officials, downtown stakeholders, and other partners.

Excellence on Main Award

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Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance

Awardee: Alliance Board President Pat Schmidt and Executive Director Mary DesMarais

Award: Organizational Excellence

Year: 2017

City: Gig Harbor

The Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance was formed in 2008 after three forward-thinking citizens attended the National Main Street Conference in Seattle the previous year. They adopted the Main Street Approach, formed a nonprofit, and achieved state designation as a Washington Main Street Community in 2011 and National Accreditation by 2012.

Today, the Alliance is a well-oiled machine, boasting four strong and active committees overseen by an engaged board of directors and a highly capable staff of three: Mary DesMarais, Josh Sherwin and Heidi Gerling.

Volunteerism and passion define the people that together make up the Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance. In 2016 alone, the Alliance logged nearly 4,000 volunteer hours.

The Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance is a leading example of Main Street principles at work: local people working together to make change. The Alliance’s impact on Gig Harbor cannot be overstated.

As one downtown shop manager put it, “The Downtown Waterfront Alliance works hard to bring our waterfront district together. They help us make the most out of ourselves and our neighboring merchants.”

Excellence on Main Award

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Wenatchee Downtown Association

Awardee: Steph Grubich and Linda Haglund

Award: Organizational Excellence

Year: 2016

City: Wenatchee

The Wenatchee Downtown Association has fully embraced an important principle of any successful downtown revitalization strategy: partnerships!

One such partnership is with the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce. In 2014, the two organizations established a joint membership program and a scholarship program that allows a new business to become a member of both organizations at no cost their first year in business. New businesses also have opportunities to be connected with an experienced business owner through the joint mentorship program. By working together, rather than competing, the WDA and Chamber are offering important services to local entrepreneurs.

Downtown Wenatchee is now a brighter place thanks to a partnership forged between the WDA and the City of Wenatchee to update downtown’s aging street lights. The WDA and the City joined forces to purchase 114 new LED lights for downtown, which has created a warmer, safer, and more appealing commercial district.

Community partnerships have resulted in several other successes for WDA in recent years. By connecting with a local elementary school, the WDA engaged students in an art competition, asking them to draw images depicting their favorite things about downtown Wenatchee.  Sixteen of these images were turned into beloved new “Why I Love Downtown” banners now hanging prominently along Wenatchee Avenue.

The business community’s support of WDA is clearly evidenced by the high turnout and contagious enthusiasm found at their Annual Dinner. WDA’s annual celebration includes the awarding of “Downtown’s Best”, which recognizing locally-owned businesses. The awards are highly valued by the business owners, in part because the community at large is invited to cast their vote.

Executive Director Linda Haglund puts it best, as only she can: “We are the heart of this community…I dare you to come downtown and not feel that.”

Excellence on Main Award

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Ellensburg Downtown Association

Award: Organizational Excellence

Year: 2015

City: Ellensburg

The Ellensburg Downtown Association (EDA) is a grassroots local non-profit working to preserve and revitalize Ellensburg’s historic downtown core. The EDA formed in 2004 and is a nationally accredited Main Street program. While they have been a Main Street program since 2004, the list of accomplishments over the past several years is truly impressive. Staff has increased from one to three employees, and the organization’s budget has more than doubled.

The EDA’s partnerships within the community have contributed to the rehabilitation of four historic buildings and the construction of two new buildings, including apartments. Partnering with the Rotary led to the creation of the Elmira Downtown Event Center. The venue includes two storefronts: one features a serving area/bar, restrooms, and a commercial kitchen while the other features 2,000 square feet of usable space with a sound system, projector, screen, stage, and sound booth.

The most dramatic project downtown has been the overhaul of the historic Geddis Building, an iconic building in the core of downtown. Working strategically with the “Downtowners” – a collaborative community group, which included representatives from the EDA, the Ellensburg Business Development Authority (EBDA and the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce – the City of Ellensburg was able to purchase the building. Now, the building is almost fully leased, and the upstairs apartments are full. In fact, there are only four retail spaces currently available downtown.

The holidays are brighter downtown thanks to the addition of 180 lighted snowflakes on light poles throughout the district, and this year the EDA is completing roofline lighting. During the nicer months, residents and visitors enjoy beautiful new planters, trash receptacles, and benches designed and manufactured right in Ellensburg. Events have continued to grow and now include Buskers in the Burg, a fantastic celebration of busking throughout downtown; Hoedown in the Downtown in partnership with the Rodeo; and Fashion Night Out, featuring clothing and jewelry from downtown retailers. Hometown Holidays expanded to cover the entire month of December, and Girls Night Out is flourishing, bringing in over $50,000 in revenue for downtown merchants this year.

“Under the leadership of Executive Director Carolyn Honeycutt and a fantastic board of directors, the EDA has grown tremendously,” said Sarah Hansen, former Washington State Main Street Coordinator. “The impact of this Main Street organization on downtown Ellensburg cannot be overstated, and we continue to be blown away by their innovation, passion, and record of success.”

Excellence on Main Award

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Colville Together

Award: Organizational Excellence

Year: 2020

City: Colville

Newly designated a Washington Main Street Community just this year, Colville Together has emerged as a standard of quality and cooperation.

At the encouragement of the City Planner, a Main Street team began coming together in 2014. This effort was spearheaded by a steering committee of community volunteers, the Chamber of Commerce, Tri County Economic Development District, and the City of Colville. They were focused on learning more about the Main Street Approach and eventually joining Washington Main Street. As the committee gained momentum, funding became a hot topic. The group knew they wanted to hire an executive director, but the ability to hire staff felt like a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum.

The answer came in the form of formalizing the partnership as an independent but unified nonprofit now known as Colville Together, which then was able to apply for Lodging Tax dollars and other funding. In 2018, Colville Together hired Rosemary Shaw as its first executive director.

Momentum has truly been building in Colville, with much credit to the strong alliance that came together to form – and continues to support – its Main Street organization. As Rosemary puts it, “Working together makes any goal achievable!”