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Downtown Revitalization

Rural Downtown mainstreet businesses: Copyright iStock Photos

Beltsville, MD: USDA, National Agricultural Library,
Rural Information Center
Last Modified May 2019.
Original edition: 2005 by Rural Information Center.



Many rural communities are engaged in revitalization efforts to renew downtown areas and restore them to their former prominence as a center of community activity. This guide links to full-text handbooks, planning tools, case studies, funding resources, organizations, revitalization strategies, and more to assist a community considering a downtown revitalization project. This guide was originally prepared by Patricia LaCaille John, June 2005. This resource guide was updated and last modified August, 2015. Rural Information Center Publication Series; no. 71 2005. Beltsville, MD.
The use of trade, firm, or corporation names in this publication (or page) is for the information and convenience of the reader. Such use does not constitute an official endorsement or approval by the United States Department of Agriculture or the Agricultural Research Service of any product or service to the exclusion of others that maybe suitable. 

Community Planning Resources

  1. Citizens' Institute on Rural Design. "National Endowment for the Arts leadership initiative in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council, along with buildingcommunityWorkshop". Find resources for arts and culture, downtown revitalization, growth, heritage and preservation, land and agricultural conservation, and transportation. Resources available in various formats, including case studies, how-to guides, and reports.
  2. Creating Resilient and Vibrant Downtowns. Downtown development resource that includes success stories. University of Wisconsin-Extension in partnership with University of Illinois Extension, Iowa State University Extension, and University of Minnesota Extension. Note: Resource directory includes programs and resources from states across the country, not only from Extension partners.
  3. Downtown and Business District Market Analysis: Using Market Data and Geographic Information Systems to Identify Economic Opportunities in Small Cities. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Extension, Center for Community Economic Development, 2011. Tools and training to support local market analysis.

Downtown Revitalization

  1. 10 Reasons Why Maine's Homegrown Economy Matters and 50 Proven Ways to Revive It. Stacy Mitchell. Belfast, ME: Maine Businesses for Social Responsibility, 2004. 56 p.
  2. City Beautiful: Establishing Community Redevelopment Areas in Florida. Melva Macfie, Karen Zagrodny. Gainesville: Conservation Clinic, College of Law, University of Florida, 1999. 24 p.  [PDF File 212.63KB]
  3. "Downtown Revitalization: Cities Search for Solutions." EconSouth, No. 3 (1999): 5 p.
  4. A Local Official's Guide to Developing Better Community Post Offices. Paul Bruhn, Emily Wadhams, Karen Horn. Burlington, VT: The Preservation Trust of Vermont, 2001. 38 p.
  5. "Organizing for Central Business District Revitalization." Gregory A. Davis. Journal of Extension. 37, No. 2 (1999): 4 p.
  6. Rehabilitating Historic Storefronts. H. Ward Jandl. Preservation Briefs 11. Washington, DC: Technical Preservation Services, National Park Service, 1982.
  7. Welcome Back Downtown: A Guide to Revitalizing Pennsylvania's Small Downtowns. Martin Shields, Tracey Farrigan. Harriburg: The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, n.d. 28 p. [PDF File 167.43KB]

Business Improvement Districts

  1. Promoting Retail to Revitalize Downtowns: An Examination of the Business Improvement District idea. Devika Gopal. Boston: Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003. 153 p.

Case Studies, Best Practices, Model Programs

  1. Brownfields Success Stories. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,Updated March 2012.
  2. Downtown Revitalization: Pipestone. Washington, DC: National Park Service. 3 p.
  3. Extension-Led Economic Development Model - A Recipe for Success. Journal of Extension, Vol. 51, No. 2, Article # 2FEA5, April 2013.
  4. Vibrant Rural Communities: Case Studies. NADO Research Foundation, Brett Schwartz. Posted December 10, 2012.

Funding Sources

This resources provide a general look at funding sources for economic development efforts. Consult grant writing resources, and A Guide to Funding Resources for assistance in preparing successful proposals and in obtaining funding applications and information for obtaining a DUNS number that is required of all organizations/entities applying for a federal grant or cooperative agreement.

Federal Funding Databases

Assistance Listings, formerly Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). Assistance Listings is an Internet database containing information about all federal domestic programs including federal grants, loans, insurance, and training programs; information is available on eligibility, application procedures, selection criteria, and deadlines.

Federal Programs

The following federal programs and private funding sources represent a sample of the resources available. For additional sources consult A guide to Funding Resources:   This online guide contains links to numerous funding sources including federal, state, and private funding databases, state foundation guides, and grant writing resources and information.

Appalachian Regional Commission

U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Department of Commerce

  • Economic Development Administration,, provides assistance to rural communities through a variety of programs including the Public Works and Economic Development Facilities Program.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. Department of Transportation

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

  • Brownfields and Land Revitalization "Brownfields are real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties protects the environment, reduces blight, and takes development pressures off greenspaces and working lands."
  • Brownfields Federal Programs Guide 2015 Edition. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Additional Funding Resources



  • American Planning Association 205 North Michigan Ave. Suite 1200 Chicago, IL 60601 Phone: 312-431-9100 Web: A non-profit, public interest group that focuses on research, policy, education and information dissemination for practicing planners, officials, and citizens involved with urban and rural planning issues. Also has the Small Towns and Rural Planning Division with specific small town focus.
  • International City/County Management Association (ICMA) 777 North Capital Street, NE, Suite 500 Washington, DC 20002 Phone: 202-289-4262 Web: The "professional and educational organization representing appointed managers and administrators in local governments." Services include: annual conference; publications; research; and special focused initiatives that include Brownfields, sustainable communities, Intelligent transportation systems, performance measurement, military base reuse smart growth and best practices symposium are just some of the many programs.
  • International Downtown Association 1025 Thomas Jefferson Street, NW, Suite 500W Washington, DC 20007 Phone: 202-393-6801 Web: "Dedicated to the revitalization of downtown areas and their adjacent neighborhoods. Focuses its programs on effective management of downtowns, including retailing, security, maintenance, physical design, business development, transportation, culture and entertainment."
  • National Association of Towns and Townships (NATaT) 1130 Connecticut Ave., Suite 300 Washington, DC 20036 Phone: 866-830-0008 Web: Provides technical assistance, educational services, and public policy support to local government officials of small communities across the country. Conducts research and develops public policy recommendations to help improve the quality of life in small communities.
  • National Main Street Center The Watergate Office Building, 2600 Virginia Avenue NW, Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20037 Phone: 312-610-5619 Web: Assists states, communities and citizens in the revitalization of business districts within a preservation context. Provides information and consultation on downtown revitalization, through technical assistance, the National Main Street Network, conferences, products and Main Street Certification Institute.

Regional Rural Development Centers

The four regional rural development centers, coordinate rural development research and extension education through out the United States. They focus on social and economic problems common to rural areas of the region through a cooperative multi disciplinary effort, including financing, public services, fiscal analyses and leadership roles. They studies economic development, improved community facilities and services, capacity building and natural resources.

  • North Central Regional Center for Rural Development Michigan State University Justin S. Morrill Hall of Agriculture Michigan State University 446 W. Circle Drive, Room 66 East Lansing, MI 48824 Phone: 517-355-3373 Web:
  • Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development The Pennsylvania State University 7 Armsby Building University Park, PA 16802-5602 Phone: 814-863-4656 Web:
  • Southern Rural Development Center Mississippi State University Box 9656 190 Bost-North (postal delivery) Mississippi State, MS 39762 Phone: 662-325-3207 Web:
  • Western Rural Development Center Utah State University 4880 Old Main Hill Logan, UT 84322-4880 Phone: 435-797-2798 Web: