FAQs

What does PDC do?

Pennsylvania Downtown Center is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to downtown issues and the revitalization of the hundreds of central business districts and surrounding neighborhoods in the commonwealth. PDC provides affordable services to our member communities, uniquely tailored to their respective economic and social conditions. These communities include urban and rural downtowns and neighborhoods of all sizes.

Is PDC a state agency?

No, Pennsylvania Downtown Center is not a state agency. Rather, PDC is an independent, statewide nonprofit organization. PDC currently holds a major contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to provide technical assistance and training, primarily utilizing the National Main Street Center's Four-Point Approach™, to Pennsylvania communities interested in downtown, central business district, and neighborhood revitalization.

Why should my town worry about downtown revitalization?

A well run downtown revitalization program is an important and worthwhile investment in the economic health and quality of life of a community. A vital central business district retains and creates jobs and stabilizes and enhances downtown property values, setting up a strong tax base that is less dependent upon residential taxes for financial stability. Long-term revitalization establishes capable businesses that serve the community and provide tax revenues for local and state government. Downtown and central business districts are also a good incubator for new, small businesses, which serve as the building blocks of a healthy economy. A traditional commercial district is an ideal location for independent businesses. In turn, the businesses keep profits in town, support local residents, and invest in community projects, such as ball teams and schools. They also provide a stable economic foundation for the community. Most importantly, a strong downtown revitalization program creates a sense of place, which is increasingly becoming a crucial factor in twenty-first century economic development.

What is sense of place?

Traditional communities in Pennsylvania, exemplified by the established and distinctive grid patterns characteristic of villages and small towns, and unique, architecturally-significant, pedestrian-oriented cities engender feelings of familiarity, belonging, and an emotional attachment by residents. A sense of place describes the various characteristics that give a particular neighborhood or community its own unique flavor. Increasingly, this is being understood as a valuable driving force behind the locational decisions being made by entrepreneurs, innovators, and creators of the New Economy. Where sense of place was once considered fluff, today, creating a sense of place is perhaps the most critical element of an overall economic development strategy.

What is the difference between the National Main Street Center's Four-Point Approach™ and the Pennsylvania Main Street Program?

The National Main Street Center's Four-Point Approach™ is a conceptual methodology that any community may use as the template for its downtown revitalization effort. The Four-Point Approach™ is based upon implementation of four functional components as foundation of a solid downtown revitalization program.

These four components are:

  • Design: Improvement and enhancement of the physical environment of the central business district.
  • Promotion: Creation and implementation of a unified and consistent plan for marketing the downtown area, including consideration of the general image of the central business district, the calendar of special events that brings people downtown, and the retail promotions schedule that encourages people to shop downtown.
  • Organization: Development of a strong, well-trained downtown corporate entity. Preferably, this entity is an independent, nonprofit organization whose sole responsibility is enhancement of the skills necessary to implement the Four-Point Approach™, including communications, volunteer development, program implementation, and fundraising.
  • Economic Vitality: Preparation of the studies necessary to fully understand the social and economic characteristics of the downtown and its trade area. This is done so as to ultimately implement a strategy that will retain existing businesses and help strong businesses and business clusters to develop and recruit new businesses that align with the vision and trade area demographics of the respective downtown.

    The Main Street Four-Point Approach™ is a highly detailed and structured series of training sessions, workbooks, videos and slide shows that teaches members of the community how to do downtown revitalization for themselves and sustain the effort into the future.

The Pennsylvania Main Street program, operated by the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), is primarily a funding program. Communities that successfully apply and are approved use the resources provided to implement the Four-Point Approach™ within their community. Generally, it is characterized by the provision of funds to hire a Main Street manager for the central business district. Working with the assistance of Pennsylvania Downtown Center, business districts that are accepted into the Main Street program are expected to implement the Four-Point Approach™.

How does my community start to work on a downtown revitalization program?

Downtown revitalization requires the operation and commitment of a broad-based coalition of public and private groups, such as businesses, civic groups, local government, financial institutions and consumers. Groups interested in the downtown must share the common goal of revitalization and develop a commitment to a specific long-term vision. Once a consensus is reached that revitalization is essential for the community, group leaders should contact Pennsylvania Downtown Center, who will visit the community group and present the basics of downtown revitalization, as well as information regarding the Main Street Four-Point Approach™ and the Pennsylvania Main Street program. If the group decides, through subsequent discussions, to pursue application to the Pennsylvania Main Street program, PDC representatives will return to the community to complete assessment and visioning processes. Some of these services are free of charge and some require a program service fee. PDC may later assist with completion of the program application, which is submitted to DCED upon completion. Afterwards, if a community is formally accepted into the Main Street program, PDC services are free of charge.

What services are free and what services does PDC charge for?

PDC is obligated by its DCED contract to provide certain outreach and preliminary assessment services to any community contemplating a downtown revitalization program. Beyond these initial introductory and community assessment services, PDC must charge for services such as visioning, planning, market area assessment, etc. Members of PDC receive a significant discount for these services. If a community is accepted into the Pennsylvania Main Street program, the services provided by PDC to the Main Street program participant are free for the duration of the time the community is in the program - normally for five years. Note: communities must still pay for PDC membership, but services above and beyond the basic membership benefits are free.

Besides a discount in technical assistance services, what else does my PDC membership buy my community?

In addition to a significant savings in service costs, PDC members receive the following:

  • Weekly updates on funding sources and training programs currently available via our E-Update.
  • Subscription to PDC's quarterly newsletter, the CenterPiece, which details the latest in downtown revitalization news across Pennsylvania and beyond.
  • Discounts to PDC's annual conference, widely considered the premier downtown revitalization conference in Pennsylvania.
  • The Legislative Alert and Legislative Update, which keeps PDC members abreast of crucial pieces of downtown revitalization legislation and related activities.
  • Free in-office consultation either in-person or by phone.
  • Access to the PDC resource center materials and lending library, located in our Harrisburg office. (Note: members may e-mail or call PDC to check-out materials and have them delivered by mail.)
  • Access to the members only area of the PDC website, which contains our member listserv, quarterly reporting system, document repository, and more.
  • An advocate in Harrisburg to act on behalf of your community's downtown revitalization efforts.

How much will it cost to complete the Pennsylvania Main Street program, and how do we raise the funds?

The amount of funding necessary to complete a downtown revitalization program is purely a function of the level of activities necessary to attain the community's vision for its central business district. Downtown revitalization is not cheap - either in dollars or in human effort - but the surest way for a community to fail at downtown revitalization is to embark upon the process while focusing primarily upon the financial requirements necessary to complete the process. Rather, it is essential to focus on the big picture and remember that downtown revitalization is an ongoing effort, not a project with a time limit or end date. Additionally, PDC can assist communities with developing long-term fundraising plans, which can invaluably help in financing downtown revitalization efforts.

What makes a successful downtown?

No question is asked more frequently than this one, but the answer is actually fairly simple. The downtowns that are most successful are those that have grasped the concept that downtown revitalization is not a project with a beginning and an end. A thriving downtown is a long-term community asset that must be constantly nurtured, maintained, and promoted. For successful communities, these activities do not lapse.

Most importantly, creation of a developed, well-educated, financially stable and sustainable downtown revitalization organization is the surest way to ensure that your downtown will be successful for the long-term, not just while you are in a temporary funding program. PDC is committed to working with your community to help your downtown revitalization effort become a true success.