Milan's Main Street Revival is a Story of Community, Creativity, and Connection
In the quaint city of Milan, a transformation story unfolds, led in part by Jill Tewsley, the city’s Community Engagement Director. Over two decades ago, Tewsley and her husband, searching for a new home, overlooked Milan, only to discover its hidden charm. "It was the last place we looked at, and we went, 'I don't know why this wasn't the first place,'" Tewsley reminisces. This moment marked the beginning of a journey towards revitalizing Milan's downtown, long before the advent of the Main Street Milan initiative.
The transformation of Milan began subtly, with Tewsley observing the community's gradual emergence. A significant shift occurred with the Main Street program, which Tewsley describes as a "catalyst for some significant change." Her involvement was serendipitous, stemming from a desire to shorten her trips to Traverse City working with a nonprofit, leading to a contract with the city to help with the farmers market. From the farmers market and other civic duties, Tewsley became acquainted with the Main Street program and thought it was a start to remedy Milan’s empty downtown.
Main Street Milan is part of a national program focusing on economic revitalization and historic preservation through principles of economic vitality, design, organization, and events promotion. The Main Street initiative in Milan began with a focus on event programming.
"We focused heavily on rebuilding a connection between our residents and our downtown," Tewsley explains. This strategy included pop-up events for potential business owners and the integration of vacant spaces for temporary stores, fostering a thriving retail environment.
Tewsley marvels at the community buy-in. Volunteerism is pivotal in Main Street's success, with various community groups contributing to its efforts. The program's success in Milan, Tewsley notes, is partly due to the strong partnership between the city and the Main Street organization, a model often highlighted in other places.
Publicizing the community and fundraising were also crucial. Tewsley emphasizes the uniqueness of Milan's approach, combining the Main Street program with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and initiating grant programs to enhance the city’s quaintness.
The program's impact extends beyond physical revitalization. Tewsley speaks passionately about "placemaking" – creating meaningful connections between people and their community with lasting memories and a sense of belonging. "Whether they move away or come back or not, they're going to have a connection to this place," she says, highlighting the importance of such communal experiences.
Innovative events like the wine walk, blending fun and community engagement, have become hallmarks of Milan's revival. These events not only celebrate the city but also serve as major fundraisers, attracting residents and visitors alike.
Milan's journey under the Main Street program emphasizes the power of community involvement, creative thinking, and strong city partnerships. It's a story of a city rediscovering its charm and reinventing itself as a vibrant, connected community. "People have fallen in love with the community they've been in for years," Tewsley concludes, reflecting on the transformative power of Milan's Main Street journey.