BATH, Maine — The city of Bath added to its laurels as one of the nation’s premier destinations Monday when it was named a 2012 Great American Main Street Award winner by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Every year, the National Trust recognizes excellence in revitalizing the nation’s historic Main Streets. Main Street Bath, a downtown organization that runs under the umbrella of the Trust’s Main Street program, was one of five U.S. cities honored with the award Monday during the National Main Streets Conference in Baltimore.
Under the four-point Main Street approach, which was implemented by the trust 30 years ago and is used in 2,000 communities in the United States, Main Street Bath has helped the city’s downtown use its shipbuilding heritage to stay relevant in the face of competition from area big-box stores and to overcome the disadvantage of a Route 1 highway overpass that diverts traffic away from the commercial district, according to a press release.
The four-point approach includes organization, which includes the creation of programs such as Main Street Bath; promotion of a positive economic image; careful design and capitalization on the positive aspects of a downtown’s environment; and economic restructuring.
“Bath is an example of how, through partnerships and perseverance, a community can overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles — in this case, the Route 1 viaduct and competition from ‘big boxes’ — to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly downtown,” Doug Loescher, director of the National Trust Main Street Center, said in a press release. “Main Street Bath has given residents and tourists alike a host of reasons to exit the highway and explore its diverse businesses, wealth of historic architecture and authentic maritime heritage.”
Jennifer Geiger, director of Main Street Bath, said the win by the City of Ships marks only the fifth time that a New England community has been selected and the first for a municipality in Maine. The other New England winners were Burlington, Vt., in 1997; Milford, N.H., in 2002; Littleton, N.H., in 2003; and Boston, Mass., in 2005.
“This award is a testament not just to the good work of Main Street Bath on behalf of Bath’s downtown, but represents a win for all Maine downtowns, which are quintessential New England and share so many assets in common with Bath,” said Geiger. “This award is a testament not just to the good work of Main Street Bath on behalf of Bath’s downtown, but represents a win for all Maine downtowns, which are quintessential New England and share so many assets in common with Bath.”
In the past, Bath has been named a National Historic Trust Distinctive Destination in 2004 and the city’s Front Street was designated one of America’s “Great Streets” in 2009 by the American Planning Association. Bath, which is in Sagadahoc County on the shore of the Kennebec River, is also a recognized Preserve American Community and a Tree City USA.
The other four 2012 winners are Culpeper, Va.; Jacksonville, Ill.; Valley Junction-West Des Moines, Iowa; and Washington, Mo. Winners were selected by a national jury composed of former award-winners, community development professionals and government agency representatives who are engaged in economic development and historic preservation projects.
Bath City Manager William Giroux said the accolades Bath has received over the years don’t go unnoticed either inside or outside city limits. In addition to creating hometown pride, he said national recognitions over time bring in tourists and that the city has some of its most active members to thank for that.
“To me it’s a tribute to all the volunteers who have worked over the years to build the Main Street Bath program up,” said Giroux. “That’s what it’s always been about in Bath. This thing is a machine that just keeps on rolling.”