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Downtown Revitalization

Rural Downtown mainstreet businesses: Copyright iStock Photos



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 March, 2022.

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 (CIRD) is a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Housing Assistance Council. 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. University Extension Programs and Resources for Downtown Development. Provided by Universities of WI, IL, MN, and Iowa State Univ. 
  3. Downtown and Business District Market Analysis: Using Market Data and Geographic Information Systems to Identify Economic Opportunities in Small Cities. University of Wisconsin-Extension
  4. Engaging Small Businesses in Rural Economic Development: Seven Guidelines for Success. A. Hause and M. Rahe. University of Missouri Extension. 2019.

Downtown Revitalization

  1. Rebuilding Main Street in Rural America: How to Engage Support, Find Funding and Build a Stronger Community. Wendy Van Duyne. Main Street America. 2019.
  2. Smart Growth in Small Towns and Rural Communities. EPA. 
  3. Why Main Streets are a Key Driver of Equitable Economic Recovery in Rural America. The Brookings Institution. 2020.
  4. Downtown Revitalization in Lost Nation, Iowa Best Practices & Recommendations. L. Engle, J. Gill, M. Pryor, and D. Wagner. University of Iowa. 2016
  5. Working Together: A Guide to Collaboration in Rural Revitalization. A. Savage, S. Brune, M. Hovis, S.E. Spencer, M. Dinan, and E. Seekamp. NCSU Extension. 2018.
  6. A Rural Service Provider's Guide to Immigrant EntrepreneurshipUniversity of Northern Iowa, RBC/ SBDC, Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration. 2006
  7. Creative Uses for Downtown Buildings in Small Towns - A Sample of Ideas to Bring People Back Downtown. B. Ryan, E. Lutz, and M. Kono with E. Welty. University of Wisconsin Extension. 2017.
  8. Small Business Perspectives on the Role of Rural Libraries in Economic Development. B. Mehra, B.W. Bishop, and R. Partee II. The Library Quarterly 87(1). 2017.

 Practices, Model Programs

  1. Brownfield Grant Recipient Success Stories. Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. Heritage Travel - Legacy Itineraries. National Park Service.
  3. Extension-Led Economic Development Model - A Recipe for Success. Journal of Extension, Vol. 51(2):2. 2013.
  4. Vibrant Rural Communities: Case Studies. NADO Research Foundation, Brett Schwartz. 2012.

Funding Sources

This resources provide a general look at funding sources for economic development efforts. Consult Funding 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 General Services Administration (GSA). Search the SAM database for information on rural funding programs. Use available search options to narrow search results. Full program description and contact information for each program. Contains information on Contract Opportunities (formerly, Contract Data (reports ONLY from, Wage Determinations (was, Assistance Listings (was, Entity Information, Entity Reporting, and Federal Hierarchy.

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 ResourcesThis 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

  • Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development (IEED) 
  • Working with Communities. The National Park Service provides many technical and funding assistance programs to State Historic Preservation Offices and communities for local projects.
  • Preserve America Communities. Designation program that recognizes communities that protect and celebrate their heritage; use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization; and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs.

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 2021 Edition. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Additional Funding Resources



  • American Planning Association Chicago, IL. 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) Washington. 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 Washington, DC.. "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) Washington, DC. 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.
  • Main Street America Washington, DC. 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 study economic development, improved community facilities and services, capacity building and natural resources.