Adding Up Impact: Rebuilding Downtown Pride
This case study is part of MANP’s Stories of Impact series, highlighting the many ways Maine’s nonprofits are essential to a strong and healthy Maine.
Since becoming a “Main Street Maine” organization in 2005, Heart of Biddeford has pumped new life into the city, attracting new businesses, jobs and city dwellers. Its impressive achievements in just eight years include:
- Securing $20.6 million in public and private downtown investment.
- Attracting 57 new businesses.
- Leveraging almost 7,600 volunteer hours valued at over $152,000.
- Increasing the occupancy rate in downtown among businesses from 70 to 89% in 18 months.
- Bringing in 84 new full- and part-time jobs.
- Joining with city government on 44 renovations and 13 public improvement projects.
The Story Behind the Impact
Heart of Biddeford (HOB) is helping the city “reclaim pride in its downtown,” according to Executive Director Delilah Poupore. Following Biddeford’s heyday in the 50’s, the city had lost its luster – and businesses along with it. Partnering with city government, regional financial institutions and private investors, HOB is turning Biddeford into a center for arts, entertainment, dining and living. And HOB is virtually all-volunteer: HOB has just two part-time employees. Almost 200 volunteers (including citizens, business owners, students from Biddeford High School and University of New England, and seniors) now serve on four committees or work on projects and events.
Media interest and word of mouth have stimulated both increased civic engagement and new investing as well. Every dollar that HOB secures for its operations is correlated with $36.96 in downtown reinvestment. In 2012 HOB launched the “Main Street Challenge,” a new business competition. Three fortunate finalists were selected in the inaugural year and another three in 2014 during “Main Street Challenge-Encore.” As recipients of $20,000 in forgivable loans and in-kind services, these new enterprises in turn have brought additional investment dollars, from as far away as California.
Mills and other buildings that had fallen into disrepair have been renovated, with 158 new housing units as well as the businesses themselves. In just six years almost 1 million square feet of the former Pepperell Mill campus has been put to new commercial and residential use. Other programs include “Adopt a Park” that turned “crack alley” into a pocket park for summer concerts and secured the involvement of 10 businesses and organizations to maintain other parks across the city.
HOB also collaborated with city officials and private enterprise to create a master plan in 2011 thanks to a multi-year grant from the Orton Family Foundation. With 80% of the plan achieved already, due in large measure to HOB and its corps of engaged citizens, the vision of 100% occupancy in downtown Biddeford is now within reach.
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