Evanston’s dedication to historic preservation and the revitalization of its downtown has earned it a semifinalist nod for a prestigious national award from the National Main Street Center.
“It is an incredible honor for Evanston to receive this recognition,” said Jane Law, manager of Evanston Urban Renewal/Main Street. “I believe Evanston is a great American Main Street. I was determined to apply on behalf of Evanston, Jim Davis, our organization, our volunteers, and everybody’s support and dedication for so many years.”
Law thanked a great team for the accomplishment and added that she was proud to be in the company of other great Main Street communities.
The Great American Main Street Award is given by the National Main Street Center to exceptional downtown organizations whose successes serve as a model for the organization’s comprehensive, historic preservation-based commercial district revitalization approach.
Evanston Urban Renewal/Main Street’s efforts to renovate and repurpose its historic landmarks for new uses began in earnest in the late-90s. The community rallied to convert the old railyard machine shop into a community venue. The project took five years and $2.5 million to complete.
The success of that project built the momentum necessary to tackle the first section of the Evanston Roundhouse, one of the best-preserved structures of its kind in the country.
"Being named a semifinalist for the Great America Main Street Award is a tribute to the many present and past Evanston volunteers who donated countless hours of fundraising for our communities downtown preservation projects," said Jim Davis, a man local leaders called instrumental to Evanston's renewal. "Their dedication has enabled our citizens the opportunity to enjoy the many economic and community benefits of historic preservation and downtown revitalization."
Since the completion of that $5 million project in 2009, the roundhouse has hosted weddings, proms, conventions, conferences, the Roundhouse Festival and the annual Renewal Ball.
The Roundhouse Festival has been held in Evanston for 21 years and regularly draws as many as 2,000 people to town to enjoy exhibitors, vendors and other festivities. The highlight of the event includes a long, slow turn on the refurbished turntable that was used to rotate the railcars.
The Renewal Ball began in 1982 and has raised $1.5 million for preservation projects, grant matches and beautification in downtown Evanston. Residents raise money through a night of silent and live auctions, dinner and dancing.
“It’s important to remember that while this designation is happening now, the work to get us here started decades ago, said Amy Grenfell, director of administrative services and city clerk for the City of Evanston. “Evanston is filled with dedicated citizens whose pride in our community shows at every turn. Past and current Evanston Urban Renewal Agency board members, and the current Main Street manager, Jane Law, deserve many kudos for their dedication, hard work and passion resulting in this designation.”
Wyoming’s economic development agency, the Wyoming Business Council, provided a $3 million grant in 2016 to finish renovating the remaining sections of the roundhouse.
“Downtown development is critical to the economic vitality of our communities,” said Shawn Reese, CEO of the Business Council. “Evanston has bright, forward-thinking leadership, and we’re thrilled to have contributed to the improvement of the city’s infrastructure and cultural institutions. With those economic development building blocks in place, Evanston’s business and industry is poised for growth.”
Just down the road from the roundhouse and machine shop is the century-old Strand Theatre, which suffered a devastating fire only a decade ago.
Today, the venue hosts plays, dance recitals, concerts, birthday parties, weddings and more.
Evanston continues to chip away at the Strand’s needs. The agency recently installed new seats on the main floor, installed acoustic panels and has installed a new movie screen.
Private donors have raised about $600,000 for those renovations.
“We are going back and adding the bells and whistles and, as we do, we are increasing the uses for that venue,” said Jane Law, executive director of Evanston Urban Renewal/Main Street. “We are still a couple years out from completion, but the progress has been awesome, and it’s amazing to see the excitement and investment from everyone who lives here.”
The Business Council has contributed $1.2 million toward the theater’s renovation. The Business Council is also the state coordinating agency for Wyoming’s 19 Main Street programs, including Evanston Urban Renewal/Main Street.
The energy of local volunteers and the willingness to help finance downtown’s revitalization have been critical to Evanston’s success.
Since 2015, Evanston has raised $529,000 in private funding and rehabbed three buildings. Volunteers contributed nearly 4,800 hours of their time.
“This nomination is a great honor for our city and is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication by city staff, Urban Renewal board members, community leaders and downtown merchant,” Mayor Kent Williams said. “It is also an honor to be counted among so many other great communities across the country. Our appreciation and best wishes to all.
Evanston’s semifinalist nod continues a recent tradition of high honors for Wyoming communities. Rawlins was named a semifinalist in 2014 and then outdid itself to win the Great American Main Street Award in 2015. Rock Springs matched the feat in 2018.
"I am so proud another Wyoming Main Street is being recognized as a semifinalist for the Great American Main Street Award,” said Linda Klinck, Main Street program manager for the Business Council. “Wyoming communities have a lot to offer their residents and visitors. The Main Street communities work hard to improve the downtown districts and provide an inviting atmosphere for shoppers. Evanston has been a leader for many years in historic preservation and this honor recognizes all their efforts for the downtown district."
The finalists for the Great American Main Street Award will be announced publicly during the 2019 Main Street Now Conference held March 25-27 in Seattle.
Communities interested in the Wyoming Main Street program should contact Klinck at 307-777-2934, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Wyoming Business Council: Our mission is to increase Wyoming’s prosperity. We envision a Wyoming where industries are strong, diverse and expanding. Small business is a big deal. Communities have the highest quality of life. Wyoming is the technology center of the High Plains. Wyoming knows no boundaries. Please go to www.wyomingbusiness.org for more information.