City earns ‘Main Street’ title

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Westbrook has been designed a nationally accredited Main Street America Community because of the efforts of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, which is led by Abigail Cioffi.

WESTBROOK — The city has officially been designated a nationally accredited Main Street America Community.

The announcement was made Nov. 9 at A Toast to Main Street, an event focused on downtown revitalization. The event was co-hosted by the Maine Development Foundation and the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, which has rebranded as Discover Downtown Westbrook.

“It’s fantastic,” said Deb Shangraw, president of the board of Discover Downtown Westbrook. “It’s a huge honor for the city of Westbrook and for our organization.”

Shangraw said the organization decided to rename itself Discover Downtown Westbrook to make the city’s downtown sound more appealing.

“We really thought we needed something more to brand what we’re about and what the city is about,” she said. “Downtown Westbrook Coalition didn’t really describe what we do.”

The organization had already been an affiliate member of the National Main Street Center and spent the summer working on an application for the city to become a nationally accredited Main Street Community. Now that the designation is official, Westbrook is eligible to receive more grants, which will help Discover Downtown Westbrook with downtown revitalization efforts.

To celebrate the announcement, the board of Discover Downtown Westbrook unveiled the organization’s new logo Thursday night, which was designed by Ethos, a marketing and advertising firm located downtown.

Gorham also received a new designation at the event last week. The town has become Maine’s newest downtown network community within the Maine Development Foundation. According to the foundation’s website, the Maine Downtown Network is a sister program with Main Street Maine.

It was also announced at the event that Brunswick is a semi-finalist for the Great American Main Street award from the National Main Street Center.

Other awards were given out at the event, including one from Discover Downtown Westbrook honoring Phil Spiller for his dedication to helping Westbrook.

“He’s worked very hard for the organization and for Westbrook and we wanted to show our appreciation,” Shangraw said. “He was the point person who put the whole event together.”

Around 150 people attended A Toast to Main Street, which was held at Presumpscot Place and featured a variety of local, state and national speakers. The discussion focused on downtown revitalization nationally with talk of Westbrook specifically woven throughout.

Yellow Light Breen, the president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation, discussed the importance of embracing change in Maine. He said it’s vital for towns and cities to move forward.

“The only way to hold on to what we hold dear is to change,” Breen said.

The keynote speaker, Ed McMahon, agreed. He the chairman of the board of the National Main Street Center.

“There is no place in America that will stay special by accident,” he said.

McMahon’s 45-minute presentation focused on how downtowns can grow successfully and attract more visitors and residents. He showed before and after photos of several cities across the country that revitalized their downtowns. He said the key is to make downtowns unique and memorable.

“Successful communities are distinctive communities,” he said. “The more towns in Maine come to look like every town in America, the less reason there is to go there.”

McMahon said the way a city or town looks reflects heavily on how people view it and how likely they are to visit it.

“If you don’t have a healthy downtown you simply don’t have a healthy town,” he said. “The future is in downtowns and Main streets.”

When talking about Maine specifically, McMahon said cities and towns need to protect their assets while also improving them.

“Saving the historic buildings of Maine saves the heart and soul of Maine,” he said. “Saving history saves your economy. Tourists won’t go to a city or town that lost its soul.”

Shangraw said the event was a great success and that Westbrook residents seem excited about the possibilities for the downtown.

“People seem to be re-energized about revitalizing the downtown,” she said. “They see more of a vision.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Ed McMahon, the keynote speaker of Westbrook’s Nov. 9 A Toast to Main Street event, said successful downtown revitalizations occur when cities set themselves apart visually.

Westbrook has been designed a nationally accredited Main Street America Community because of the efforts of the Downtown Westbrook Coalition, which is led by Abigail Cioffi.

The Downtown Westbrook Coalition, which has rebranded as Discover Downtown Westbrook, on Nov. 9 unveiled its new logo after announcing it received designation as a nationally accredited Main Street America Community.

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