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State downtown program sought

Eight states in the nation don't have statewide programs supporting downtown revitalization, including South Dakota.

A group representing eight communities met Thursday in Mitchell for its second South Dakota Downtown Summit. The group discussed how to start a state downtown coordinating program, which would help those with current, city-based programs, like Mitchell Main Street & Beyond, and those that hope to start their own programs, said Molly Goldsmith, executive director of MMS&B.

"We know we can only do so much at our level," Goldsmith said of the current independent organizations. "We need something that's going to help us bridge the gap, provide technical assistance and support."

The group agreed the best route is to explore how to begin as a nonprofit organization, work toward grants, possibly have the office based in an existing downtown organization and eventually get some support from the Legislature.

Dusty Johnson, a Mitchell resident and chief of staff for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, visited the meeting. He suggested starting the program through 501c3 nonprofit status or trying to get funding through the Legislature.

"You should be talking to Pat Costello, the head of economic development in South Dakota," he said. "There is a willingness to listen to this message."

He suggested getting as many advocates throughout the state as possible and talking to everyone in the Governor's Office of Economic Development, starting at the staff level.

"Meet with as many people who will talk with you," Johnson said. "Have a well-polished pitch."

Johnson acknowledged it could work for the group to get legislative funding, but that it would be more of a long-term goal.

Johnson said if the group plans to go through the Legislature, group members need to not only find advocates for the statewide downtown program, but champions -- people who will make the program a primary issue.

A statewide downtown program must be accredited through the National Main Street Center, Goldsmith said.

The National Main Street Center is a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. South Dakota once had a state downtown program from 1987 to 1989, but it faded due to budget cuts and other factors, and only about half of those communities retained their downtown programs. Now, as a state historical society study suggested, main streets play viable roles in economic development, Goldsmith said.

The statewide program would give all towns in South Dakota, large and small, the opportunity to access technical assistance in starting a program and grant opportunities otherwise not available, she added.

"We need good statistics, a good presentation to show a statewide program is needed," said Rosie Jamison, executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce. Madison is working to get a downtown revitalization program started, she said.

Kristin Heismeyer, program director of Downtown Brookings Inc., said a formerly proposed budget showed a statewide program would need an approximate $200,000 budget to begin, which would include two staff members. She suggested cutting costs by housing the program in one of the existing program offices.

Goldsmith said the program also needs a steering committee of five to seven people to prove why the program is important. Should the state program come to fruition, the committee would likely become the first board of directors, she said.

The group plans to continue meeting to determine what kinds of routes to take, do more research into starting a state downtown program and decide if the program is something that should be done, Goldsmith said.