Destination Downtown

By Becca George And Christy Howard Womack

Murfreesboro’s downtown or “the square”, as we commonly refer to it offers a nostalgic quality that many downtown areas don’t quite capture. You get the feeling you are strolling through time, walking the streets of a bygone era while visiting and enjoying all the modern local flare Murfreesboro has to offer. With the charming courthouse as the hub, Murfreesboro downtown surrounds it and brings community on every corner. The square is lined with restaurants, shops, spas and salons, local theater and much more.  Murfreesboro’s downtown area is so much more than just a place, it offers a sense of community and camaraderie and truly is the heart of our city.  The Downtown Murfreesboro Business Association and Main Street Murfreesboro are two organizations that strive to ensure the square is a thriving place for locals and visitors to enjoy.

The visionaries of Murfreesboro adopted the four point approach of the Main Street Program in 1985. Developed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Main Street four point approach involving economic development, organization, promotion and design, is a proven strategy that continues to transform the way communities think about revitalization and management of their downtowns. In 1985 Murfreesboro became one of the first five Main Street communities in Tennessee and is today one of over 2000 communities that have adopted this successful approach to downtown revitalization.

The mission of Main Street Murfreesboro/Rutherford County is to promote, enhance and maintain historic downtown Murfreesboro as the heart of the community. Executive Director, Kathleen Herzog, is understandably proud of the success of that mission. “Our community has greatly supported the many free promotions that Main Street provides to bring people downtown. I hope that the people of Murfreesboro feel that benefit too. Through generous corporate sponsorships and private support, Main Street can do events like JazzFest, Friday Night Live and Main Street Saturday Markets, not to mention Trick or Treating on the Square and the Christmas tree lighting.”

Jazzfest is a two day festival, that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, that has been named for the third year in a row as one of the Top 20 Events in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society which represents 12 states. Now in its 7th season, the Main Street Saturday market offers families another opportunity to discover our beautiful downtown and all it has to offer. The Main Street Saturday Market is a Tennessee farm-related products market, meaning all the products have to be made in Tennessee. The bounty includes locally grown produce, meats, eggs, flowers, herbs and native Tennessee plants, as well as fresh locally baked goods (prepared in health department certified kitchens). With the generous support of corporate sponsors, Main Street also presents a summer concert series called Friday Night Live. These free concerts are offered on the first Friday Nights of June, July, August and September from 6:30 to 9:30 on the east side of the courthouse.

The Downtown Business Association is an organization of local merchants that are committed to making and keeping our downtown a great place to be.  The organization consists of 80 businesses surrounding the square from bed and breakfast to bakery to spa and anything in between. “The heart of downtown offers historic business, restaurants, legal work as well as retail shops. It is a very eclectic mix,” explains Jennifer Durand, founder of The Nurture Nook, an upscale boutique spa off the square.  Jennifer explains that the square is a great place to gather for concerts, farmer’s market, running as well as foot traffic to the local businesses.  “From my perspective it is the uniqueness that draws people,” says Durand, “From the different {types of} people that want the trendy, hip, happening area to those that love the historic value and appeal. That is what downtown is supposed to bring.”

Jennifer has a passion, not only for her business, but for all the downtown businesses and events to thrive.  “I don’t attribute the growth or decline {of my business} to where I am.  It isn’t because you happen to be downtown, that may add to your niche, but it isn’t the thing that motivates people to be there,” says Durand, “What motivates them is how they feel after they leave.  People want that connection to a community and that is typically found downtown.”

“When new industry is looking at coming to Rutherford County, they bring them downtown to feel our community’s history, our pride and to see our quality of life,” says Herzog. “The newest buzzword in community development is public place making. It’s what the millenials and the baby boomers want. It’s suddenly trendy to live, work and recreate in the same place, but we’ve been doing it for years. We’ve been having JazzFest for 20 years! People want to be able to buy a cute dress, get a beer and listen to music and do it all downtown. We’re trying to make that happen. We want to invite people to come and see what’s here and feel a part of the heart of our community.”

This type of success doesn’t come without a huge amount of coordination and support. “Main Street has revitalized and continues to maintain a safe and vibrant downtown with lots of help. The partnerships with the two local governments have been vital. They love us and I love them. I could not possibly do these events without the support of both governments. Lots of communities just don’t have that kind of love fest,” explains Herzog. According to its bylaws, Main Street has a twenty member strictly volunteer board of directors who meet monthly. Chosen by a nominating committee, these members believe in the Main Street approach. They are city and local industry leaders, and two of the members are also on the City Council, and two are on the city’s “2035 Committee” who are studying what our city should like in the year 2035. “I am so fortunate to be surrounded by such a wonderful board who give a piece of their heart and of their time to Main Street,” says Herzog.

This coordination with the city and county governments has been a big part of the success of Main Street. “There is so much going on downtown right now,” says Herzog. “Our new $73 million judicial building, the new parking garage, our new roundabout and the new police department going up on Highland. There are also experts studying how to develop the area south of downtown across Broad Street and to develop the Highland corridor. Main Street has been at the table for many of these discussions. We are fortunate to have that kind of coordination. For instance, we were very involved in the city’s decision to purchase the Franklin Synergy Bank building. We are all on the same page here. How many times do you have the chance to be involved in the development of an entire city block located adjacent to the city square?”

The Downtown district is much more than just the four streets around the square. The Main Street revitalization development area coincides with the city’s definition of the entire downtown area, and that area is filled with locally owned independent businesses. Herzog is passionate about supporting those businesses in our community. “I like to remind people that for every $1 that you spend in an independently owned store, 68 cents returns to the community through taxes, payroll, etc. If you spend that same $1 in a big box store, only 43 cents returns to your community. And if you sit at home in your fuzzy slippers and order on the internet, guess how much comes back to your community? Nothing! Please, please come shop at that precious hardware store where you’ll have specialty services and where you’ll receive special treatment,” implores Herzog. “I think people are catching on to that. I like to quote ‘you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy local and it’s about the same thing.’”

So where does the money come from to pay for all of this? “We are a 501(c)(3), and we get a jumpstart in our budget from both local governments. We pay for JazzFest through corporate partnerships and with some funding from grants. Our largest is THE Summer Party on July 22 also called The Taste of Rutherford. People buy tickets to this casual event that offers food, drinks and a band. The second big fundraiser is Evening on Main which is September 13. A portion of the membership fees paid by the Downtown Business Association also go to support Main Street.

“The sense of community that we bring with these free concerts and Saturday market is something you can’t put a price on,” says Herzog. “I hope that our best success is giving to the people a sense of belonging to something. When people are sitting elbow to elbow at a concert, they feel part of something special and they are connected. What is there not to love? My mission is to help people fall in love with our historic downtown.”

Downtown Business Association: www.shopdowntownmurfreesboro.com/

Main Street Murfreesboro: http://www.downtownmurfreesboro.com/