An interview with Melanie Sunnarborg, MainStreet Owatonna and Marketing Director at the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. MainStreet Owatonna is one of seven Designated Main Street programs in Minnesota working to revitalize their downtown.
Why should people visit Owatonna?
People should visit Owatonna because our charm will draw you in. You can stroll our historic downtown and catch a concert or movie in Central Park—we are the perfect getaway!
What does MainStreet Owatonna have coming up this year? What’s happening to Downtown Owatonna that’s different from years past that’s exciting (or just different)?
MainStreet Owatonna has many exciting projects occurring in this year including the completion of our marking and wayfinding project which will help us to brand our downtown and make it easy for people to find us. On the development front, we have had great support from the City of Owatonna as they intervened in a blighted property and worked to replace the roof before Winter took a toll. We also have a 36-unit apartment complex going up with underground parking.
What are you most excited about?
I am most excited about branding our downtown and working to help people find our beautiful central business district.
What is your vision for Downtown Owatonna? For MainStreet Owatonna?
Our vision for downtown Owatonna and our MainStreet program is to build upon our inherent assets—rich architecture, personal service and sense of place to ensure that our downtown remains an important and prosperous part of our community.
How do you work with people who want to fix up their own building or are thinking of rehabbing properties in your MainStreet District?
More often than not, my role in rehabbing or repairing a structure is to connect them with resources. I assist in getting them either the information or to those who have the right information whether that be locally or at the state level. Sometimes my job requires me to be the check-in both for the building/ business owner and with the vendors or contractors.
How do they come to you?
I usually go to them. I will stop into a place to see how things are going or grab a bite to eat and someone will say “I’ve got a question for you about (x)” or “can you tell me who I should talk to about (y).” Could you tell me about a success story? In addition to listing a significant portion of the downtown on the National Register of Historic Places last year, we have seen an influx in small start-ups open up and existing businesses within the community relocate into the downtown.
How does this affect people with businesses in other parts of town?
Owatonna continues to see growth in business development throughout the community and a prosperous downtown is beneficial in attracting new businesses and enhancing our workforce recruitment and retention.
How does this affect people in live in and around Owatonna?
A diverse cross-section of businesses within our downtown means people who live in and around Owatonna are able to utilize the many businesses within a smaller geographical area ultimately getting more accomplished in less time. For example, drop off the dry cleaning, check out a book at the public library, drop off the tax information to the account service, buy a new pair of shoes and grab lunch– without moving your car.
What do you love most about your job?
I often think about the many individuals who built the buildings within our downtown and the independent business people who took a chance on opening or continuing to run a small business. I personally enjoy preserving and working to make our downtown a place for people to enjoy. I believe that when we invest the time, energy and resources in the places we care about most, such as our downtown, we feel a sense of accomplishment in shared success. Most of the buildings within our downtown date from the late 1870’s to the late 1950’s. If it weren’t for other “preservationists” before us, we may have not been able to pass by or utilize these buildings as we have today.
What does your average day look like? Do you go to lots of meetings?
No two days are the same. There are quite a few meetings with stakeholder groups and committees. I also try to do a lot of relationship building with business and building owners. Knowing their concerns first-hand allows me to tailor our goals around their needs.
When ideas for an event or project come up, is it through you or do people come to you?
Both—we have some great ideas generated from the community that we work to implement and we also have great volunteers who help us to achieve an event or project.
As a Main Street America(TM) Coordinating Program, Minnesota Main Street is part of a powerful, grassroots network consisting of 45 Coordinating Programs and over 1600 neighborhoods and communities across the country committed to creating high-quality places and to building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development.
The Minnesota Main Street Program has been financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the Minnesota Historical Society.