Main Street America Conference Takeaways

Earlier this week I attended the national Main Street America Conference in Seattle. I participated in a number of workshops and seminars across a dozens of revitalization topics. Here’s my main takeaways.

#1 We are in an Experience Economy.  Over the years we have gone from a scratch made life, to boxed up convenience, to a fast paced 2.0 lifestyle...And now, experts believe we are in the Experience Economy.  Powered by both Baby Boomers and Gen-Z looking to enrich their lives; consumers are demanding less things and more experiences while traveling, dining out, shopping and life in their “Places”.   We must adapt and innovate our services, businesses and downtown around experiences. In fact, the top 3 community drivers, by a large national survey are:

Social Offerings

Openness or Inclusion


#2 Placemaking is becoming vital to revitalizing communities.  It's not only the art of identifying community assets and turning them into gathering places, but creating a community that has pride in their place. This is tough, everyone's place is different to them, everyone loves Woolley for a reason, there must be hundreds of uses, the only solution is to become inclusive of everyone from every culture, age group and interest.  Listen to what's important and create welcoming places inside our businesses, parks and throughout downtown Sedro-Woolley.

#3 Brownfields (contaminated properties) don't have to stand in our way of revitalization! The EPA and other organizations have processes, programs and resources for us to immediately start the long term redevelopment steps.  Grants, Loans, Foundations, Other Non Profit organizations and many government agencies both local, state and federal are working with communities JUST LIKE OURS to turn these situations into opportunities!  They also welcome double dipping if it’s a historical building!

#4 We need to tell our story.  As we have evolved over the years we have taken on a certain reputation, age group has one image, locals, tourists, customers, students...We need to discover our communities personality, create a vision that will outlast leadership changes, and position downtown for growth, investments, pride of place and the connected community.

#5 There's never been a better time to start planning the historic preservation of our downtown.   There are a number of different strategies that the City could implement that could boost investments in our downtown and create a tourist destination while both celebrating and protecting our heritage.  There are dozens of grants, resources, experts and partnerships waiting for us as soon as we begin creating our Historic Preservation Plan. This starts the long term project of inventory, surveys and applying for National Park Service Grants.  Some historical misconceptions demystified:

  1. Improvements don't have to take your building back in time.  Modern building materials allow you to keep the style and preserve the heritage.

  2. Our city council actually establishes the regulations on design standards, can establish building code variances and create property tax incentives.

  3. It’s not actually hard.  I made several relationships with folks at the National Park Service and other organizations that will help us get put together a historic preservation plan.  It DOES take time. So jumping in now is 2nd best to starting 3 years ago.

#6 Opportunity Zones could be a great way for us to attract investments in downtown.  There are some rules to follow, but as one consultant I met laid out, with the right Cooperation, Marketing and most importantly passionate projects, it's possible to build a pipeline of all the necessary components.  Doubled up with historic tax credits, this could be very lucrative.  Here’s how Opportunity Zones Work:

  • In 2018, an individual investor sells shares of Amazon stock that they purchased and end up with a Capital Gains Tax of $1,000,000.  

  • Instead of paying capital gains tax on this sale, the investor rolls their $1 million gain into a Qualified Opportunity Fund that invests the capital in various operating businesses or real estate located in Opportunity Zones with a plan to liquidate the fund in 2028 (10 years).  

  • The assumed value of this investment in 2028 is $2 million.

  • Paying $202,300 in taxes in 2026 instead of paying $238,000 in 2018.  15% discount

  • Owing no additional tax on the $1 million in capital gains on the Opportunity Fund investment realized in 2028.

Some other things to note:

  • You must invest your gains within 180 days.

  • Can be teamed up with workforce housing or HMTC funds.

  • You must make a “Substantial Improvement” of the property.**

  • The Fund must spend the monies designation for the project within 31 Months.

  • You MAY bring in 70% Tangible Assets for a business OZ project.

Look for some micro seminars around Brownfields,

Historic Preservation and Opportunity Zones in the near future.

Please consider Volunteering for the SWDA so we can make all this happen!

Ian Larsen, Executive Director

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