A growing desire to live near public transit centers has played a role in injecting new life into Richmond’s downtown corridor, which features an evolving transit village connected to a BART station.
But perhaps even more credit for the resurgence should go to the relatively unsung group of hard-working individuals who operate the award-winning Richmond Main Street Initiative, which was honored with a proclamation for 15 years of service at the Oct. 25 City Council meeting.
RMSI has incrementally injected color and life to downtown through a long list of successful initiatives that have brought summer concerts, festivals, streetscape improvements, art both inside and outside buildings and, most evidently, a greater sense of safety and cleanliness.
The idea for RMSI started in 1998 by city economic development employee Janet Johnson, who identified the main street approach for revitalizing downtown areas. The RMSI mission was to create and sustain a partnership between the city, property owners, merchants and neighbors to inject new life into the corridor.
RMSI incorporated as a community-based nonprofit in 2001 and has played a part in creating many of the fixtures and events that continue to increase the downtown’s vibrancy.
In its first year, RMSI launched the annual Music on the Main summer concert series, and later the annual Spirit & Soul Festival.
Also in its early years, RMSI partnered with government agencies and the community on planning and implementing significant improvements along Macdonald Avenue, including streetscape enhancements that were completed in 2009.
The first concepts for the downtown’s Art in Windows series, which places artwork in vacant storefronts in the area, began in 2007. And then in 2010, RMSI established the Healthy Village Festival, which led in following years to weekly, seasonal farmers’ markets and fitness classes.
In 2012, RMSI secured one of its greatest victories when it rallied downtown stakeholders to establish the first and only Property Business Improvement District (PBID) in West County. Approved by 75-percent of property owners, the PBID imposes a self-governed property tax to fund downtown improvements. The funds in part pay for neighborhood ambassadors to ensure safety and cleanliness along the strip.
RMSI’s accomplishments have earned the nonprofit a flurry of awards and recognition, including the MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Award for Excellence in Blight Reduction in 2013.
This year, the once-neglected Macdonald Avenue made National Life Group’s Main Streets Across America List.
And if it doesn’t have enough going on, in 2016 RMSI also embarked on plans to develop a co-working business incubator downtown.
“Can’t you do a few more things?” Mayor Butt quipped while reading the nonprofit’s long list of organized events and initiatives during the Oct. 25 council meeting.
For Amanda Elliott, the oft-touted executive director at RMSI, and her small but dedicated staff, the successes have worked to inspire even more ideas for improvements in the near future.
“What Richmond Main Street is incredibly proud of being able to accomplish in 15 years is really engaging the community and learning from them what they want to see their downtown become,” says Outreach Coordinator Alicia Gallo.
And after goals are set by stakeholders, RMSI heads out to leverage support from residents and community and corporate partners, Gallo said.
“We’ve been really excited and proud of the business attraction improvements we’ve done downtown,” she added.
And RMSI is poised to do more.
“We’ve accomplished so much in our first 15 years, but we are looking forward to another 15 years and beyond of bringing more businesses downtown, really growing our community events to bigger and better opportunities for community members to get together and have a good time, and really supporting our businesses here and welcoming everyone to downtown Richmond,” Gallo said.
RMSI Milestones & Accomplishments
2001 – Launches 1st annual community event program: Music on the Main summer concert series
2002 – Becomes one of the first urban Main Street programs
2003 – Partners with Richmond Redevelopment Agency to develop community-driven strategies for Macdonald Avenue Revitalization project
2007 – Aspire! art exhibition lays foundation for Art In Windows program
2008 – Summer Youth Entrepreneur Program debuts, training youth in work readiness & entrepreneurship, and providing job placement: to date, 100+ youth served
2009 – Macdonald Avenue Streetscape Improvements completed, enhancing the look, feel, and accessibility of Downtown
2010 – Expands small business assistance programming & establishes Healthy Village Festival, followed with weekly, seasonal farmers’ market & fitness classes in 2012
2012 – Rallies Downtown stakeholders to establish first and only Property Business Improvement District (PBID) in Richmond and West County
2013 – Receives MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Award for Excellence in Blight Reduction
2016 – Macdonald Avenue makes National Life Group’s Main Streets Across America List, National Main Street Accreditation renewed, embarks on plans to develop co-working business incubator in Downtown.