Main Street. No matter where you are in the country, those two words conjure the image of a primary thoroughfare through a quaint town. The majority of shops and restaurants are owned by locals, and it’s hard to take a stroll without seeing someone you know. Add a college to the mix, and the charm factor goes up a notch.
Newark is that Main Street kind of town. While some Main Streets have fallen on hard times, Newark’s downtown continues to thrive, in large part thanks to the Downtown Newark Partnership. Formed in 1998, the organization was created to advocate for downtown, engage the community, increase communication among the stakeholders and organize events.
The DNP has done its job well. In May, the National Historic Preservation of Trust gave Newark and the DNP its Great American Main Street Award. “For a downtown revitalization organization, winning the Great American Main Street Award is like winning the Super Bowl,” says Maureen Feeney Roser, administrator of DNP and assistant planning and development director for the city of Newark.
Vance Funk, who’s been mayor for seven years, is beaming. “We’ve spent so much time making our Main Street the best in the United States,” he says. “It’s great that someone recognized it as such.”
The award is given to a city with a track record of significant achievements that has become a regional and even national destination, says Diane Laird, state coordinator for Downtown Delaware. “This award, along with DNP’s full implementation of a new, colorful, contemporary downtown brand, demonstrates an established and authentic ‘place’ with forward-thinking leadership,” she says.
As part of the application process, the DNP listed its greatest accomplishments. Among them:
• An expanded calendar of events. Before the DNP, the city held community events, but none helped boost retail sales or encouraged business. That changed with such events as Downtown Newark Restaurant Week, Wine & Dine Downtown and Food & Brew Fest.
• A 38-percent increase in the number of off-street parking spaces.
• A thriving gift card program that earned Newark the Most Successful Economic Restructuring Story award at the 2010 Delaware-Maryland Revitalization Conference.
The DNP submitted maps, guides and videos to illustrate why the city deserved the award. But for those of us who’ve dined, shopped and enjoyed the entertainment options, the proof is in the experience. Even if we don’t call Newark home, we feel at home.