by Elisa Hawkes
Coastal Journal staff
BATH — Who has the best Main Street in America? If you live in Bath, the answer is, “We do!” The City of Bath was presented with the prestigious Great American Main Street Award on April 2. Bath is the first Maine community to receive this award, and only the fifth in New England.
Each year, the National Trust Main Street Center, a department of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, recognizes five communities around the United States for excellence in revitalizing the nation’s historic “Main Streets.” Main Street Bath was honored at the 2012 National Main Streets Conference in Baltimore on Monday, along with four other winners.
According to Mari Eosco, Bath City Councilor and Great American Maine Street Award committee chairwoman, the Main Street Bath organization has been active in the city for approximately 10 years. Eosco said the group had an impressive foundation on which to build.
“In the 1970s, the new sidewalks and lights were put in, and we received an award from the National Trust,” Eosco said. “And in the late ‘80s, the Bath Business Association was started.”
Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) Committee Chairwoman Mari Eosco (far left), Maine Street Bath Director Jennifer Geiger, and assistant Samantha RickerGoad wear t-shirts proclaiming Bath as the winner of this year's award.Main Street Bath Director Jennifer Geiger said she has seen a steady progression of improvement in the variety and quality of downtown businesses, signage, displays, and more.
“The preservationists have kept the infrastructure and history alive over the years,” Geiger said. “The Business Association and Main Street Bath have used these things for the benefit of the residents of Bath.”
According to Geiger, the National Trust developed the Main Street program approximately 30 years ago. They have been presenting awards for the past 16 years. Bath’s involvement in the award program began at the Chicago awards ceremony a few years ago, which Eosco and co-chair Polly Goldman attended. Eosco said she and Goldman watched the ceremony and thought, “We could do that. Bath could win!” Two years later, Bath is the proud recipient of the Great American Main Street Award.
Eosco and Geiger acknowledged the hard work of the many volunteers who made winning the award possible.
“Only two of us are paid employees,” Geiger said, speaking of herself and her assistant, Samantha RickerGoad. “Without all of the volunteer help, we couldn’t do what we do.”
“I was thinking about the award,” said Eosco, “and I realized what an honor it is to accept this on behalf of all the people who made this happen – all the volunteers, the city of Bath staff, and the council members. And they do the work happily, too.”
“They are very invested in the successes of the downtown,” said Geiger. “And they understand what an asset it is for the city to have this wonderful downtown, which is so vibrant and historic.”
Geiger said she feels all of Bath benefits from the efforts of Main Street Bath and the award. The activities in the center of town involve people from the whole city and draw people to the entire area.
“This is bigger than just a victory for downtown Bath,” she said.
Geiger said Bath is representative of the iconic Maine town, featuring similar Main streets, with brick buildings, church spires, gardens, and a real sense of family and community. Currently, there are nine Main Street organizations operating in communities across Maine. Geiger said she and Eosco would like to see more cities and towns develop Main Street committees to enhance the quality of downtown areas. The aim of Main Street programs is the revitalization of business districts within a preservation context.
In addition to the banner hung across Front Street proclaiming Bath to be a Great American Main Street Award winner, the committee will be honored at the annual Downtown Conference in May.
Eosco said the committees were judged on four criteria: Design features, organizational elements, promotional material, and economic restructuring. The design features encompass such things as beautification projects, historic preservation, appropriate signage, and general visual appeal. Organizational elements include the number of volunteers and hours contributed to town projects, donations collected, communications, and sponsors. Promotions include development and execution of downtown events, as well as the development of appropriate marketing materials, such as the town map and related items. The economic restructuring portion takes into account the diversity of the business mix, as well as the nuts and bolts of revitalization. It includes offering workshops to help businesses provide better customer services, and bringing a higher level of prosperity to the town as a whole.
The Maine Street Bath committee was informed they were one of 10 finalists back in December. The next step was to submit a video about Bath. Geiger said they had put together a video just in case this should occur. The video may be viewed by visiting http://visitbath.com/.
“The process was fun. It was really impressive to pull together all of that information and see how far we’ve come,” said Eosco.
The Great American Main Street Awards presentation was attended by Eosco and Geiger, as well as Goldman, Board President Brian Hatch, committee members Jayne Palmer and Polly Thibodeau, Past President Susan Gillies, Maine Downtown Center Senior Advisor Bill King, Director of Maine Downtown Center Roxanne Eflin, and Bath exchange student Ida Hartmann.
Geiger said the committee will be working with the city council to decide where to display the brass plaque received from the National Trust. She and Eosco said the plaque is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the many people who make Bath such a wonderful place to work and live.