Organizing a Main Street Program


Becoming an Official Colorado Main Street

First - Ask!

Contact Main Street staff to see if your community would be a good fit. 

Colorado Main Street will provide an overview of Main Street to the local champions making the inquiry.

Next - Ask around

Talk with municipal officials and community leaders to gauge interest in the program. 

Colorado Main Street staff is always available for presentations.

Become an Aspiring Community

Apply online and send a letter of support from a municipal elected or appointed official.

Note: This holds no obligation to the community, and 68 cities and towns are already aspiring - Check to see if you are one of them!

Build Momentum 

Garner support with stakeholders - Who are natural partners in your community for Main Street? Involve the Chamber, Economic Development Council, Business Association, etc.

Colorado Main Street staff is always available for presentations.

Find a Home 

Determine where the local program will reside; develop a steering committee or board of directors; identify a champion/point of contact; review program manual and sample memorandum of understanding.

Contact Colorado Main Street staff for the manual and sample MOU, as well as with any questions.

Host Open House 

Establish broad community support for the work you have done and want to do. 

Schedule with Colorado Main Street for staff to be a part of this engagement and to visit your downtown. 

Make a Plan

Immerse your board in the Main Street Approach and develop a strategic plan, including a map with Main Street boundaries.

Colorado Main Street consulting services may be available free of charge.

On Your Marks …

Prepare your Achieving Application.

Schedule a time to review and receive a copy of the application and sample resolution from Colorado Main Street.

… Get Set …

Use the feedback from that meeting to draft your application, including at least three letters of support and a proposed budget. 

Send to Colorado Main Street for review; staff will set a meeting with you to help strengthen a final draft.

… Get Ready …    

Submit the final draft, including a resolution of support from your town board or city council at least one month prior to the scheduled Advisory Board meetings. 

The Colorado Main Street Advisory Board meets in February, April, and September to review applications; it can then take up to four weeks for the Department of Local Affairs to approve any recommended communities. 


Embrace the Main Street Approach!

Whether accepted or not, Colorado Main Street staff is here to help! 

If accepted, staff will prepare a memorandum of understanding to be signed by your municipality and Department of Local Affairs Leadership, provide training for the Main Street Manager and Board and execute your mini-grant and scholarship agreements; then, the ongoing technical assistance and education begins.

Not all first applications are approved. Cities and towns that have embraced the approach and moved forward with a work plan have made great changes in their communities - and have come back with a successful application. Continue to work with Colorado Main Street staff!

Organizational Types

The exact type of organization chosen for each Main Street program varies from community to community and may change over time. Some typical organizing structures include:

Embedded in Another Organization    

A Main Street program may be embedded in another organization, such as an economic development corporation, local government, or Downtown Development Authority (DDA). In this case, the Main Street program should have its own advisory board to cover Main Street activities, and should have its own budget and sources of revenue. In some cases, the umbrella organization’s board may serve as the Main Street board, but working groups should be developed to work specifically on the Main Street program.


The local Main Street program may be a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4)organization depending on its exact mission and the findings of the IRS. Each designation varies somewhat in what activities the organization is permitted to undertake. A 501(c)(3) offers tax benefits for some (but not all) donors. Colorado Main Street has posted two recorded webinars on its website on choosing, attaining and maintaining nonprofit status. All nonprofits are governed by a board of directors, must adopt bylaws, and must comply with financial reporting requirements.

Chamber-Based (501(c)6)

In smaller towns, or in towns with strong downtown business districts, it may make sense to combine a Chamber of Commerce and a Main Street program. This can be done either by unifying both programs under one board, or by having a Main Street governing board and program housed within the larger organization. Keep in mind that there may be conflicts between the two organizations’ missions and philosophies.


In some cases, a Main Street program may be a coalition of more than one organization, such as an existing merchants’ group serving as the Promotion point for a DDA Main Street organization. In these cases, it is important to clearly define responsibilities, clarify funding and fundraising, and keep strong communication between the entities and staff.

Program Structure

Regardless of the organizational structure, there is one recommended organizational model: Having a board who serves as main stakeholder group and individual project-based sub-committees, task forces, and/or existing organizations. This structure can be developed further to reflect community needs. A Main Street manager/staff is only required as the Excelling or Exceptional status and may be a full- or part-time position depending on the size of the community.

Board of Directors Overview

The board is the governing body of the local Main Street program, providing strategic direction, making decisions on budget and staff, and serving as ambassadors for the program. Main Street boards should be considered as working boards, and members’ commitments of time (generally five to 10 hours per month, plus meeting attendance) should be outlined in a position description (see Appendix B). If the program is an independent nonprofit organization, board members will have fiduciary responsibilities. 

Board procedures, including election of president and vice president, should be outlined in the adopted bylaws (sample bylaws available from Colorado Main Street). It is also helpful to have a system for succession so someone is knowledgeable and ready to step in if the chair/president leaves the organization.

The board chair or president (not staff) runs meetings, often using Robert’s Rules of Order (or a loose interpretation thereof). It is important that the board make clear decisions and give straightforward direction to staff, although it is generally the president/chair who works most closely with staff. Likewise, it is helpful for staff to deliver a written report prior to each meeting. The board treasurer will track finances and deliver a financial report at each meeting, and the board secretary may take minutes. 

Some boards select an executive committee (generally the officers — president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer) to make certain decisions, such as those regarding staffing, but this is not necessary for many smaller organizations.
It is also desirable to strive for diversity (i.e., depending on the make-up of your district, you may strive to include a retailer, employer, property owner, restaurateur, and community resident). The board may contain ex-officio members representing certain organizations (such as the local government, Chamber of Commerce, etc.) and these may be voting or nonvoting members. It is generally recommended that boards are kept to a manageable size (no more than nine or 11 members, and smaller is fine) — not every partner need be represented on the board. Remember that this is a working board and should include those who want to roll up their sleeves — not necessarily those who are prominent in town and have many other responsibilities.

Board members, not staff, should take the lead in any fundraising efforts as they are the ambassadors of the organization.

Main Street Boards should represent these five important groups:

  • workers who roll up their sleeves and actively participate in the implementation of the program;
  • wisdom to further the mission of the local program;
  • at least one worrier to act as the reality check for the rest of the board;
  • wealth, and the knowledge of where to get it; and
  • representative and inclusive of the whole community.

The Main Street Board, as a group, is responsible for:

  • raising funds as needed to operate the local program (this is not a responsibility of staff);
  • being walking, talking advocates for the program;
  • being accountable to the community for success of the local program and for using its human and financial resources wisely;
  • setting strategic direction, both long- and short-term, including approving annual work plans;
  • establishing policies for the program; and
  • making personnel decisions (hiring, evaluation, and dismissal of staff).

The role of each board member is to:

  • participate with knowledge and labor, and often money;
  • attend monthly board meetings and complete assigned tasks;
  • understand the mission of the local program and actively promote its goals;
  • support the decisions of the board; and
  • devote time to attend educational and professional development opportunities relating to the program and downtown development.

To learn more best practices for boards, visit the Colorado Main Street website. For more information on board roles, see Appendix B.

How the Four Points Relate to Board and Volunteer Activities 

Organization plays a key role in keeping the board, staff, volunteers, and program in good shape by attracting people and money to the organization. Organization focuses on:

  • fundraising — as appropriate, from projects and administration, donations, sponsorships and grants;
  • managing staff and volunteers — by maintaining a volunteer list, recruiting people, supervising them, and rewarding good work;
  • promoting and communicating about the program — to downtown interests and the public;
  • partnering — with other community organizations; and
  • managing finances — by establishing and maintaining good accounting principles.

Promotion is geared toward promoting the downtown as the center of commerce, culture, and community life for residents and visitors alike. Promotion focuses on: 

  • understanding the changing market — both potential shoppers and your competition;
  • building on downtown assets — including people, buildings, location, heritage, and institutions;
  • defining Main Street’s market niche — its unique position in the regional marketplace;
  • creating new image campaigns, retail promotions, and special events — to lure people to downtown; and
  • marketing the downtown — through branding, print materials, and online. 

Design plays a key role in shaping the physical image of Main Street as a place attractive to shoppers, investors, business owners, visitors and residents. Design focuses on:

  • providing good design education and advice, through professional resources where available, to encourage quality improvements to private buildings and public spaces;
  • planning Main Street’s development — guiding future growth and shaping regulations through engagement with stakeholders and local government;
  • motivating business and property owners to make changes — linking business and building owners to available incentives, creating new incentives, and targeting key projects;
  • being a steward of public spaces within the district;
  • facilitating the rehabilitation of existing private buildings and the creation of new buildings compatible with the district; and
  • enhancing the walkability and ambience of the district — beautification, building facades, streetscape, parking, and signage.

Economic Vitality is about understanding the market, identifying new market opportunities for the district, linking business owners with available assistance, finding new uses for historic commercial or residential buildings, and stimulating investment in private property. Economic Vitality focuses on:

  • learning about the district’s current economic condition and identifying opportunities for market growth;
  • strengthening existing businesses and attracting new ones;
  • finding new economically viable uses for traditional Main Street buildings;
  • developing financial incentives and capital for business development and possibly for building rehabilitations; and
  • monitoring the economic performance of the district.

Guiding Documents

The following outlines the guiding documents that provide local Main Street programs direction. Colorado Main Street can provide sample documents, and often consulting services, to create or update these resources.

Mission Statement

A program’s mission statement is the core statement that defines what your program is, providing the compass to point in the direction of success. The mission defines the “why, how, and for whom.” The statement clearly illustrates the program’s focus on the revitalization of the Main Street district. While it is reviewed each year, the mission statement is unlikely to change much over the program’s life.

Vision Statement

The vision statement is what the program wants to accomplish in the Main Street district — a vivid summary of what success looks like in five to 10 years. It should be specific enough to help paint an inspiring picture of your successful downtown, while broad enough to allow for the creation of a transformation strategy and associated programming that will help you achieve it. A good vision statement should speak to each of the four points of the Main Street Approach. It may not specifically mention the four points but provide something for each to identify with. The mission and vision statements are two of the most important tools in setting the direction for the program. Put the mission or vision statements in highly visible areas either in your board packets or in the board room of the Main Street program, as well as on your website. As ideas, projects and opportunities continually fly into the Main Street office, the mission and vision statements can keep you grounded in your goals and keep you from “mission drift.”

Strategic Plan

A strategic plan outlines the program’s goals and the ways in which the program will achieve those goals to guide decision making.

Colorado Main Street can provide consultants to official Main Street communities to help facilitate strategic planning or board retreat sessions, free to the community. 

Work Plans

Work plans outline the specific steps to achieve the goals of a strategic plan, clearly outlining the tasks that need to be accomplished, by whom, and when, as well as associated costs. Even when projects are assigned to committees, a specific person should be identified to report on progress ­— and that person should not always be the Main Street manager, who needs to keep tabs on the progress of all projects. Work plans should include:

  • Project definition that details the goal and its specific initiative
  • Task list that describes individual actions necessary to complete the project
  • Timetable that sets a realistic start and finish for each task
  • Identification of project lead responsible for task completion
  • Costs associated with each task and identification of resources needed
  • Means to measure the outcomes of accomplishing a project
  • Work plans should be approved by the board of directors. Examples and templates are available from Colorado Main Street, who also provides consultants to help develop them for official communities.

Program Bylaws

Bylaws define how the Main Street program will be managed and how it will operate. While not required to become an official Main Street community, nor to maintain that status, they are required as further evidence of sustainability to move up in the tiers.

Employee Handbook

The employee handbook is a compilation of the policies, procedures, working conditions, and expectations that guide employee actions. It is a valuable communication resource for both the employer and the employee. 

Each employee should receive a copy of the employee handbook to keep, which should be read in the first week of employment. Employees should sign a statement indicating they have read and understand the material. Keep the signed statement in their personnel file.

Board Member Orientation Packet

Every new board member should be given an orientation packet that includes information about the local Main Street Program, the Main Street Approach, and Colorado Main Street services, as well as delineates clear roles and responsibilities for board members. New board members should be encouraged to attend one of the relevant webinars presented by Colorado Main Street or review the materials on the Colorado Main Street website. Colorado Main Street is happy to provide a “Main Street 101” to local boards ­— as new information or a refresher.

Board Member Letter of Commitment/Agreement

To ensure that board members will abide by the program’s bylaws and are accountable for their roles and responsibilities, each board member should sign a letter of commitment that clearly describes the program’s expectations for its board members. This can be done at the first board meeting of the fiscal or calendar year.


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