DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Participants in the National Main Streets Conference plan to gather in Detroit starting this weekend to boost nationwide efforts to rebuild vibrant, economically viable downtowns.

The 2014 National Main Streets Conference starts Sunday in downtown and runs through May 21. About 1,200 people are expected to attend the event, to share optimism for the future of downtowns, The Detroit News reported.

Efforts to revive downtowns involve the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Main Street Center. The conference attracts professionals in preservation-based economic development and community revitalization, including architects, planners and officials.

“The automobile was very bad,” says Robert Donohue, program coordinator for the Main Street program in Oakland County, north of Detroit. “Where do you put all the cars? We were tearing down buildings for parking lots, and in the process lost a lot of that downtown fabric.”

The Detroit suburb of Ferndale is among Michigan communities where downtown revitalization efforts are considered successful. Work has turned West Nine Mile from a bleak, dusty four-lane road into a walkable commercial strip with most storefronts filled.

“One of our former mayors always said you could roll a bowling ball down Nine Mile and not hit anyone,” said Cristina Sheppard-Decius, who took over the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority in 2000. “We had a 30 percent vacancy rate.”

Event organizers are throwing a Saturday party for conference attendees in Ferndale.

The Main Street Center has worked with 2,000 communities nationwide, including more than two dozen in Michigan. Bankrupt Detroit’s downtown has been the focus of revitalization work in recent years, and participants will get a glimpse of that progress.

“There’s so much enthusiasm,” said Patrice Frey, the Main Street Center’s president and CEO. “After I visited Detroit last May, I told my husband,`There’s a really cool energy in Detroit. It feels like the next big thing.”‘

Among local communities lacking a real, walkable downtown is Warren.

After several failed attempts in recent years, the mayor of Michigan’s third most populous city says there are some solid plans in the works that could see a hotel, movie theater, restaurants and shops developed in the area near City Hall at 12 Mile Road and Van Dyke Ave.

Talking to WWJ Newsradio 950 last week, Mayor Jim Fouts said he’d like to build a pedestrian bridge over Van Dyke linking the GM Tech Center — and its roughly 25,000 employees — with Warren’s proposed downtown.

“General Motors is the center of the city,” Fouts said. “I think General Motors could certainly do what Ford has done for Dearborn.”

Fouts said the city is selling several parcels of land around city hall in hopes of spurring development.

“I think it’ll be unique,” Fouts said. “And I think that if we can attract the type of developments that we’re looking at right now, I think it could certainly be a destination.”

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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