“Great people, great community — doing great things,” is how the board president of Downtown Washington Inc. summed up his feelings of the group being recognized at the national level.

Downtown Washington Inc. received the 2012 Great American Main Street Award Monday morning at the National Main Streets Conference in Baltimore, Md.

The award is sponsored by National Trust for Historic Preservation, which announced five winners.

“The award is a great honor that puts into perspective all the years of hard work and dedication,” Andy Unerstall, board president, told The Missourian. “Past and present members have worked hard to keep our downtown active and alive.

“I would like to thank Bridgette Epple, our executive director, and Aimee Frey, our event coordinator, for all their leadership — we wouldn’t be where we are without them,” said Unerstall, who was among a local group of 17 attending the conference.

Downtown Washington Inc. was notified earlier it was one of 10 semifinalists for the award. The organization was then required to submit additional support materials to be judged, including a five-minute video and 30 letters of support from key stakeholders.

A GAMSA jury, composed of representatives from the commercial district revitalization field, served as the judges.

Downtown Washington Inc.’s video, which can be seen at emissourian.com, showcases the downtown area, events and festivals, and some of the projects the group worked on over the past year, including the renovation of the downtown post office. It also touches on each of the Main Street four points and how the organization is utilizing them locally.

Promotional pieces, such as the Invitation magazine, also was included with the application, as well as the brochure on the sign and awning grant and information on the downtown post office acquisition, renovation and now operation.

Executive Director Bridgette Epple said it was an honor to even be asked to apply for the Great American Main Street Award.

“For us to then make it among the top 10 was amazing and now being named as one of the five national award winners, it’s so exciting. I couldn’t be more proud of our organization, our members, our volunteers and our great community,” Epple told The Missourian.

Downtown Washington Inc. also was a semifinalist for the award in 2000 and 2001.

Epple said only two other communities in Missouri have received the award — Clarksville in the late 1990s and Lees Summit in 2010.

Washington was well represented at the conference. Epple and Aimee Frey, staff members, attended along with current and past board members, as well as Mayor Sandy Lucy and Darren Lamb, community and economic development director.

Several Historic Washington Foundation board members, Downtown Washington Inc.’s sister organization, also were in attendance.

The four other winners of the Great American Main Street Award are Bath, Maine; Culpeper, Va.; Jacksonville, Ill.; and Valley Junction/West Des Moines, Iowa.

Shines a Light

Rick Hopp, former downtown board member and Historic Washington Foundation president, said the award shines a light not only on Washington, but the entire state of Missouri. He also said the award is shared by all current and former board members, especially those early promoters of the downtown.

Joe Schneider, foundation board member, agrees.

“This award is the ultimate culmination of years and years of dedication and hard work to promote and preserve our wonderful heritage,” said Schneider, adding “small-town America is alive and well.”

Cathy Weber, downtown board member, said the mission statement of Downtown Washington Inc. is to promote an attractive and financially stable downtown while preserving historic resources and enriching the community.

“And that’s exactly what we have worked hard to accomplish,” Weber said. “Whether it’s sitting at a meeting discussing how to attract more businesses to the Washington community, working at the Sunset on the Riverfront, the Art Fair & Winefest or any one of many events, or putting our old work clothes on to gut and restore historic downtown buildings.

Accomplishments

The Great American Main Street Award winners are recognized for their exceptional accomplishments in revitalizing the nation’s historic Main Street commercial districts by using the National Trust’s Main Street Four-Point Approach.

“These communities demonstrate the artful balance between ambitious plans for the future and respect for a community’s heritage and character,” said Doug Loescher, director of the National Trust Main Street Center.

“They provide excellent case studies on how to persevere in times of hardship or uncertainty — whether it is flooding, earthquakes, post office closures or economic decline — to chart a community’s bright future that all stakeholders can support.”

Officials with the National Trust said Downtown Washington Inc. has helped nurture and enhance its downtown as the heart and soul of the community since adopting the Main Street Approach in 1989.

By promoting its cultural and architectural resources and a rich array of special events, Downtown Washington, Inc. has proactively showcased the city’s past and its future, they said.

“Downtown Washington offers great lessons in how to boldly respond to opportunities,” said Loescher. “From its acquisition and operation of the city’s 1922 post office, to developing upper-floor housing, to restoring the historic Outdoor Civic Center, Downtown Washington, Inc. has never been afraid of leading by example.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places to enrich our future. www.PreservationNation.org.