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ANNIVERSARY

Silver City MainStreet

Downtown revitalization project celebrates 30 years

Silver City MainStreet, founded in 1985, celebrates a legacy of 30 years of enhancements and economic revitalization in the downtown historic district.

mainstreet
Sandy Solenberger revisits the “office” where MainStreet
started in 1985. The “office” is under the stairs at City Hall.
(Courtesy photo)

For the past two years MainStreet has been coordinating the renovation of the Silco Theater, 311 N. Bullard Street. The reopening of the historic theater, built in 1923, anticipated for late November, will bring movies back to downtown. The opening of the theater will also create new jobs and contribute to the economic vitality of the already active downtown entertainment scene.

Additionally, MainStreet is working on improvements to Main Street Plaza, home of the Silver City Farmers Market. MainStreet is working with the Town of Silver City to obtain funding for improvements to the downtown “gathering place,” which also provides much needed parking for the downtown when not being used for the Farmers Market on Saturday morning from May until October. Partners in the effort to improve Main Street Plaza are the Silver City Farmers Market, Silver City Food Coop, Grant County Trails Group and the Town of Silver City.

During April, the first MainStreet Project Manager, Sandy Solenberger, visited Silver City and shared memories of the founding of MainStreet in Silver City. Solenberger was involved in the development of MainStreet in a variety of roles between 1985 and 1995, when she and her family moved to Kodiak Island, Alaska.

Solenberger shepherded the fledgling organization through the incorporation process. The current organization was developed from what was initially the Downtown Rehabilitation Committee. The committee comprised business owners and community members who were concerned about the 35 to 40 percent vacancy rate in downtown first floor commercial buildings. The poor condition of the sidewalks was also a concern. Solenberger said sidewalks looked like “broken taffy.”

At the state level, New Mexico MainStreet, a division of the Economic Development Department, provided technical support to the newly developed local organization. Solenberger’s recounting of her experience with MainStreet during the first 10 years of the program is a reminder a longterm view is needed for revitalization projects as complex as a downtown historic district. A great deal of patience and tenacity are also required.

mainstreet
Silver City MainStreet Founding Board Members Sudie Kennedy,
Sue Jollensten, Rosalee Saiz, Susan Berry and Bobbie Neal
Little recently got together with other former and current board
members and managers to celebrate 30 years of MainStreet in
Silver City. (Courtesy photo)

When Solenberger visited, she said she was thrilled to see the Visitors Center and the MainStreet Offices in the 201 N. Hudson Street building. The current offices are a big step up from Solenberger’s original “office,” a desk under the stairs at City Hall. During her tenure, Solenberger worked on the plans for the Visitor Center but had not seen the building. She was also instrumental in obtaining the donation of the lot for the Visitor Center.

Solenberger saw improvements to the sidewalks and increased occupancy of commercial properties in the district during her 10 years of involvement with the project. She cited great community participation in downtown events such as the Lighted Christmas Parade as a turning point for understanding what a treasure a vibrant downtown is for a community. MainStreet will celebrate the 25th year of the Lighted Christmas Parade Saturday, Nov. 28.

Other popular events more recently added to promote the downtown experience include Big Ditch Day and Taste of Downtown. The current downtown commercial first floor vacancy rate fluctuates between 12 and 15 percent. MainStreet’s challenge is attracting businesses for larger commercial spaces for sale or rent.

A real treasure in downtown Silver City is Big Ditch Park, which includes the grounds at the Visitor Center on the corner of Broadway and Hudson Street and follows the San Vicente Creek north to College Street. Improvements to the park were started while Solenberger was involved with MainStreet and continue today.

In 2012, interpretive signage was insatalled explaining how the Big Ditch was created where Main Street once thrived prior to a series of floods in the early 1900s. Last year, the faded Visitor Center sign was replaced with a new lighted sign, made possible with Silver City Lodgers Tax Funding.

In 2014, Silver City was designated as the first gateway community of the Continental Divide Trail, which has been developed from Canada to Mexico along the continental divide. The Visitor Center is the “headquarters” for those using the Continental Divide Trail in the Silver City area. This year, MainStreet celebrated Big Ditch Day in April in conjunction with the Continental Divide Trail season kickoff event.

Solenberger credited former State Rep.Murray Ryan with helping to bring funding from the state for infrastructure improvement projects in the downtown, including the sidewalk improvements, Big Ditch Park and the Visitor Center, named the Murray Ryan Visitor Center in his honor.

“MainStreet has been a marvelous project for Silver City and I watched MainStreet carefully during the time I served in the legislature,” Ryan said.

MainStreet also coordinated the downtown street light retrofit with the “acorn” streetlights. The project can be expanded to include additional areas in downtown if funding were to be made available. In 2010, MainStreet completed the Gateway Arch, at the Broadway entrance to Downtown.

The seed money for the project was provided by the Silver City Rotary Club and the project completed with support from the community. In 2011, Silver City MainStreet was recognized as a “Great American Main Street” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Solenberger said the award, the only community in New Mexico, to be honored, was well deserved.

“Without the firm foundation built by Solenberger and additional dedicated individuals, MainStreet could not have become the dedicated champion for economic revitalization in the downtown historic district that it is today,” Lucy Whit marsh, current MainStreet manager, said.

 





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