Downtown Walla Walla Foundation in midst of unprecedented success

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The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation is working hard for others to enjoy the success it has experienced for 18 years. It is our responsibility to help other communities reap the benefits that the Washington Main Street Program provided us over the years.

In an effort to balance the state's budget in the face of mounting deficits, Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget would eliminate the Washington State Main Street Program, which serves more than 90 organizations representing communities throughout the state. The Main Street program's budget was already cut by 75 percent as part of the 2009 budgeting process leaving just one staff person and a state general fund budget of about $120,000 to serve all of the communities participating in the state's Main Street network.

Despite the current threat to the Washington Main Street Program, the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation is experiencing the best of times.

Membership is at an all-time high of 209; there are over 100 active volunteers working for downtown; DWWF has the highest participation in the Main Street Tax Incentive of all Washington State Main Street communities, which has helped the foundation enjoy an unprecedented four-year period of successful operations.

But this success does not keep the foundation from joining the fight to save the state Main Street Program for other communities. A program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Trust Main Street Center has developed and promoted a commercial revitalization philosophy that draws on a community's unique heritage and character. Nurturing local resources and initiative, the state program leads community leaders to develop and implement their own plans to revitalize the heart of their own community -- the downtown.

There are 11 certified Main Street communities in the state. The local Main Street organizations in these communities are accredited yearly by the state program using national criteria. These organizations also serve as models, catalysts, and resources for neighboring communities wishing to undertake successful downtown revitalization. The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, a Main Street organization since 1992, is a shining example of how effective this program can be.

Community and downtown leaders from across the state are working to help save funding for the Washington Main Street program. Organizers have created a Facebook page -- "Supporting Main Street in Washington State" -- to share success stories and keep supporters informed of their efforts during the current legislative session. In just the first week, more than 500 supporters have signed on.

Organizers have also been working closely with their elected officials and legislators to identify ways to save the program, which supporters feel is crucial to the small towns it serves. Now, more than ever, we need the support for our small towns to help them get through these challenging economic times.

Efforts to save the program appear to be generating bipartisan support among legislators. Rep. Dean Takko, a 19th district Democrat, introduced House Bill 2704 co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Hinkle, a 13th district Republican, on the opening day of the legislative session. Sen. Derek Kilmer, a 26th district Democrat, is expected to introduce a Senate companion bill by the end of the week.

More information on the Washington State Main Street Program can be found by contacting the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation at 529-8755 or at www.downtownwallawalla.com.

Elio Agostini is executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.

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