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Making the most of our Main Streets

Despite recently being elected director of the entire California Main Street Alliance, Howard Levine, director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association, says, “My first job is to do my job downtown.”

Celebrating its 20th anniversary of existence, CAMSA presently has 39 Main Street Associations in cities such as Arcata, Oceanside, Salinas, Hanford, San Diego and Grass Valley.

The organization is part of a national movement, started in response to growth and an effort to control it, of approximately 2,000 groups dedicated to restoring historic Main Street areas and central business districts.



In 1985, California joined a growing national movement to improve the quality of life in America’s towns, cities and neighborhoods by restoring the economic health of Main Streets, historic, traditionally designed central business districts.

According to the group’s Web site, the program was developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Center and organizes a district’s comprehensive revitalization efforts into a four-point framework: organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.




Focused on enhancing the economic, social, cultural and environmental well being of historic and traditional commercial districts located in California’s cities, towns and neighborhoods, California Main Street attempts to help communities build strong, broad-based organizations to implement and manage the revitalization process.

The program was located in the Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency for almost 17 years until budgetary cutbacks in 2002 removed all state funding, effectively shutting down the program.

Through the efforts of the California Main Street Alliance and the Californians for Preservation Action, the Main Street Program was restored within the Office of Historic Preservation, the result of a provision of Senate Bill 1107, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in August of 2004

“The program has been very successful,” said Levine, a former Grass Valley planning commissioner who recently celebrated his seventh anniversary as director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association.

Levine said the local version of a Main Street association was formed because local residents and business owners “wanted to make sure downtown remained economically viable.”

Downtown Grass Valley currently has zero vacancy on its ground floor spaces, Levine said, as an example of local vitality.

Future plans for the Grass Valley Downtown Association include finding more ways to park people, which would make it easier to bring business to the area, opening additional recycling centers and expanding the historical district.

The city of Grass Valley funds the association with $35,000 annually to help it achieve these goals, Levine said, and area businesses each drop an additional $300 to $600 to the group’s coffers.

Levine, who moved with his wife Peggy to Grass Valley from San Francisco in the 1970s and opened the Swan Levine House, a bed and breakfast on South Church Street, emphasized the role other staff members at the Downtown Association played in bringing about many of the local accomplishments.

“They love downtown,” Levine says of the staff, “and they’re just so dedicated.”

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To reach staff writer Josh Singer, e-mail joshs@theunion.com or call 477-4234.


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