Biddeford, ME

Contact Name
Tammy Ackerman
Project Dates
2012
Workshop Leader
Creative Communities Exchange (CCX) 2013
Tags
Business Planning
The 2012 Main Street Challenge was a business plan competition initiated by the Heart of Biddeford, a downtown revitalization organization that is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Maine program. The Main Street Challenge’s success was due in large part to the simultaneous organization and promotion of the arts and creative economy by Engine and other key art community members.
Project Goals
What were the project goals?
The goals of the Main Street Challenge were 1) to recruit new businesses in order to enhance the downtown business mix, 2) to provide businesses with a head start during the difficult first year of business, and 3) to build a buzz promoting Biddeford as a great place to start a new business.
Have they changed over time?
The goals for the Main Street Challenge were very specific and had a prescribed time frame, a beginning and and ending date, in other words. Because of the success of the first project, a second challenge is being planned but focusing on business expansion rather that strictly new businesses.
Who are the project partners and stakeholders?
Direct project partners include the Heart of Biddeford which originated the Main Street Challenge project and the City of Biddeford, which endorsed the project and provided financial support. Engine, a community arts organization, is a major stakeholder in the project, working alongside the Heart of Biddeford to attract people into the downtown.
Project Specifics
How was the project implemented? What were the steps taken?
This project was put into effect by the vision of the Heart of Biddeford’s executive director and her ability to garner the necessary support for the project. The inclusion of the arts and creative economy as a component of the Main Street Challenge was due to the consistent efforts of Engine and a handful of other key people in the arts, working in tandem on the mutual goal of economic development.

Pulling from input from the downtown master planning process, the Main Street Challenge Project followed a very linear process: planning, garnering support, recruitment, selection, start-up, and promotion. The inclusion of arts and creative economy businesses in the criteria of the project was due to the attention being focused on the community for its fledgling arts and creative economy movement.

In November of 2012, a new vegetarian cafe, Dahlia’s Delights, and a custom-woodworking retail shop, Tote Road, opened in downtown Biddeford followed in March of 2013 by Elements, a coffee shop/bookstore/taproom.
Have they been refined over time?
Steps taken in the first Main Street Challenge were quite successful because of the unilateral support the project received from City government and the community. That support was won by thoughtful, consistent relationship development between the various stakeholders.
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles?
1) Overcoming distrust of “outsiders” by long-time residents and elected officials
2) proving the value of the arts and creative economy
3) engaging the native population
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
The leadership of members of both the Heart of Biddeford and Engine has been key. Without strong leadership, many of the smaller initiatives would have floundered and the valuable input of many, many volunteers gone to waste.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1) Find passionate people and engage them in the vision.
2) Accept and strive for small successes. Small but cumulative successes create positive change. Broadcast those positive moments constantly.
3) Forget working in silos! Actively reach out and create relationships, one-on-one, with a broad swathe of the community.
Project Impact
How has this project contributed to creative community building?
The three new businesses appeal to a more diverse demographic...vegetarians and people who appreciate well-prepared healthy food, people who appreciate craft and art, and coffee/book/beer lovers. Coffee shops in particular are community gathering places and tend to attract a creative clientele. All three of these businesses support the arts movement by hosting literary readings and musical performances, and participating as venues during the monthly Biddeford+Saco ArtWalk.
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
The opening of three new businesses in alignment with the Downtown Master Plan and which support the growing creative economy will serve as attractors for additional creative entrepreneurs by enriching the fabric of the downtown culture.
Were there unexpected impacts?
All three businesses, from the beginning, are experiencing their most profitable evenings on nights when there is a cultural event in the downtown either at Engine, at the City Theater, or during an ArtWalk.
CCX Workshop Handout