A private corporation has been formed to promote Salem’s downtown district. The entity, Salem Main Street Association (SMSA) is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit that follows a downtown revitalization model called Oregon Main Street.

SMSA hosted a public event on April 20 where it shared its vision with local people.

“I believe our downtown is the heart of our community and represents who we are and historically who we were,” says Salem’s Hazel Patton, a historic preservationist and spokesperson for the group.

SMSA will have no members, meaning that all significant decisions will be made exclusively by its board. The board is self-selecting, itself appointing and replacing board members. Bylaws say that only “owners, employees, partners or associates of businesses and residents living downtown” may serve on the board.

As it moves forward, SMSA will follow guidelines established by Oregon Main Street, a program that helps Oregon cities revitalize through a nationally-established network. “The goal,” says Oregon Main Street’s web site, “is to build high quality, livable, and sustainable communities that will grow Oregon’s economy while maintaining a sense of place.” In Oregon, 72 communities currently participate in some form of Main Street development.

SMSA had its beginnings more than a year ago. Patton says meetings started with a steering committee of citizens that eventually formed a core of six people. These six – photographer Caren Ann Jackson, property owner Gayle Doty, former attorney Michael Livingston, banker Jim Vu, Huggins Insurance’s TJ Sullivan and Patton herself  – “chose to form a board of directors and pursue becoming a member of the Main Street program.”

By the time of the public event, the board had grown to 15 individuals and bylaws were completed that give it the option to have as many as 17 on the board. Board terms are staggered, with one third of the 15-member’s terms set to expire this June.

During the April 20 event, interested area people were invited to sign up for four committees including 1) Economic Vitality, 2) Design, 3) Promotion and 4) Organization.

Committee persons will not be members of the corporation. “As a newly formed organization,” Patton says, “we decided not to have members until we had established ourselves. I am sure we will have members in the future.”

She estimates “over 70 folks [attended the event] and many signed up to be a part of our committees,” and calls the evening “a huge success.”

Sheri Stuart, statewide coordinator for Oregon Main Street, has worked with main street communities since 1990. She advised SMSA on its development over the months and spoke at the April 20 public meeting.

To find funding for their projects, Stuart says, organizations like SMSA look to a variety of sources. The National Main Street’s “rule of thumb” Stuart says, is to obtain income from “30% local government, 30% downtown business and property owners, 30% from major employers or sources outside the downtown and 10% special event fundraisers.” SMSA bylaws do not specify who is responsible for fundraising from these entities.

In recent years two previous groups, Go Downtown! and Salem Downtown Partnership, have worked with businesses and local government to reinvigorate the downtown area. Both “had good people involved, and we tried to help each group integrate the Main Street Approach,“ Stuart says. The current effort is different because her department is “working with the group to form a main street organization from the ground up and not trying to impose an organizational structure on an existing organization that may or may not have been a good match.”

The group does not yet have a website, and its flier does not provide contact information. Currently, Patton, ptn1363@msn.com, is the contact.