The congratulations poured in from all corners of the country after Rock Springs won the prestigious Great American Main Street Award this spring.
Gov. Matt Mead, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi and National Main Street Center president and CEO Patrice Frey all praised the hard work by the Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency Manager Chad Banks, Mayor Carl Demshar, a committed board and scores of volunteers, donors and community leaders who have revived the heart of Rock Springs.
“I think recognition is important for maintaining enthusiasm, whether that’s a national award, a state award, the completion of a project or reaching a fundraising goal,” Banks said. “It’s good to stop and celebrate those victories big and small. Those are important to keeping all of those involved in community work like this energized and moving forward.”
Rock Springs threw a raucous celebration.
About 100 revelers filled the renovated Broadway Theatre to celebrate everything Rock Springs Main Street had accomplished in the last year. The organization honored outstanding downtown businesses and tireless volunteers.
Everyone basked in the national recognition as one of three organizations among 1,200 applicants demonstrating the true potential of the National Main Street Center’s four-point approach to economic development through historic preservation.
For Banks, though, the key phrase is: moving forward. After all, the work is never complete when it comes to improving Rock Springs’ central commercial district; making it more profitable for business owners; preserving its character; and making it more inviting to locals and visitors alike.
That’s why, after the crowd dispersed, Banks swept the confetti from the floor of the renovated Broadway Theatre. He popped the balloons bobbing along the edge of the stage. He walked out into the hushed evening, locked the doors for the night and prepared to get back to work.
“I don’t foresee a day where you can ever say ‘We’re done’,” Banks said.
Atop Banks’ lengthy list of work yet to do is further development of the city’s Ethnic Enclave Business District, implementation of the city’s transformation strategies and redevelopment of the First Security Bank Building.
An Ethnic Enclave Business District is a commercial area with a strong cultural identity and high rate of minority-owned local businesses.
Rock Springs Main Street established the district in spring 2016 with the help of National Main Street Center with a grant from Wyoming Main Street to better understand how to help those Hispanic business owners.
Because Hispanic-owned businesses are the fastest growing sector of the economic boom downtown, Rock Springs Main Street has worked hard to increase services to this population.
“That’s an area we want to improve, work more closely with that community and make sure Rock Springs as a whole understands what is available there,” Banks said.
For example, there are two Hispanic markets that have operated largely under the radar of shoppers, Banks explained. He wants to get the word out and help connect people to those businesses.
Another priority for Banks is the transformation strategies developed in 2017 with the help of the National Main Street Center and Wyoming Main Street. The process included surveys and public meetings with residents to better understand their current impressions of downtown, what they liked about the city’s core and what was missing.
The consensus was residents wanted to see an arts and culture district and dining and entertainment district develop in downtown.
Rock Springs Main Street has been hard at work renovating what have become anchors for that vision.
The Freight Station, which had been abandoned for more than 30 years, is now a community center bustling with weekly events. It houses the Visitors Center where travelers can get recommendations and use the public restrooms. The Broadway Theatre is downtown’s new live performance art venue. The 370-seat theater hosts a range of shows each year that draw visitors from far and wide.
Downtown also features a couple museums and a new black box theater preparing for its grand opening.
“When people think ‘What are we going to do this weekend?’ we want them thinking of downtown first,” Banks said of the vision for Rock Springs’ future.
Looming large in those plans is the redevelopment of the First Security Bank.
Downtown advocates want the three-story building renovated into a commercial, residential and office space.
It’s a massive undertaking, but similar to Downtown Rock Springs’ successful work on the Freight Station and the Broadway Theatre.
“The First Security Bank is an eyesore, and there’s so much downtown still to be done that it’s easy to forget where we started 12 or 13 years ago and see how much we have done,” Banks said.
Among those achievements are 200 buildings rehabbed in the downtown district since Rock Springs Main Street was founded, and the improvements to Bank Court like furniture, a covered pergola and more.
Banks hopes Rock Springs Main Street’s track record with these projects, along with the momentum from the Great American Main Street Award, is enough to propel the organization and the downtown forward to ever greater heights.
After all, unfinished business remains in Rock Springs.