VAN WERT – On Tuesday, June 11 Main Street Van Wert will hold their annual Main Street Live! Award Dinner outside of the Wassenberg Art Center. This year’s keynote speaker is Frances Jo Hamilton, Director of Revitalization for Heritage Ohio, who believes in the importance of healthy downtowns.

In her role with Heritage Ohio, Hamilton oversees the entire Main Street program. The program helps communities put together small non-profit organizations in their communities to focus on downtown revitalization.

“By and large, what I do is help those organizations get up and running and offer them support on sustainability,” said Hamilton. “We focus on volunteer development and making sure the downtown is the responsibility of the full community. The Main Street approach is a pretty formula organizational concept that allows communities of all sizes to put together and sustain a non-profit organization even if it’s all volunteer run that can help with downtown revitalization.”

Hamilton lives in Delaware, Ohio and grew up with a strong love for downtowns.

“I’ve always lived in a small town and close to a walkable downtown,” said Hamilton. “It was always something that was imperative in my life and how I grew up. Downtown was the first place I was allowed to go to by myself when I was young.”

Hamilton believes in creating healthy downtowns that are beneficial to the livelihood of communities. She stated that human connection is one factor that creates a healthy downtown.

“We are so overwhelmed with electronic availability and that false sense of being connected to people,” said Hamilton. “Living in or being close to a downtown, especially if it’s a hometown to you where people actually know you – the human connection makes a big difference.”

Hamilton said that there is also a big difference in how buildings used to be built compared to how they are built today.

“We build buildings because of aesthetics or ease of use rather than asking, ‘do those buildings actually serve us on a more fundamental level when it comes to our health?’” said Hamilton.

Hamilton added that communities need to invest in their downtowns because, while they can be emulated, they are hard to replace.

“You just can’t replace the genuine nature of a historic downtown,” said Hamilton. “In a lot of places we’re looking at the sprawls and the strip malls. Those places only house one single story of economic potential but in a downtown usually, you’ve got two, three, and sometimes four stories of economic potential.”

Hamilton has helped to restore several historic homes and believes in the importance of downtown revitalization.

“We’ve got plenty of downtowns that are still, at this point, suffering from our sprawl decisions that began in the 70s,” said Hamilton. “So, it’s nice to be involved in so many communities that are bringing their downtowns back to that priority level.”

Hamilton encourages residents to support their local Main Street organization.

“I think it’s really important for each community to understand that while those organizations are small, local organizations, they are part of a much bigger movement,” said Hamilton. “The support at the local level is imperative to making sure that those organizations are successful. Keep supporting Main Street Van Wert.”

Main Street Live! will be held June 11 at 6 p.m. with a social time beginning at 5:30 p.m. The event will be an outdoor event taking place directly behind the Wassenberg Art Center in the Art Park.