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Great Downtowns Growing Cities

Great Downtowns Growing Cities...Resources for Illinois Communities

In the past, retail trade and manufacturing were mainstays of economic growth but today’s growing economies trade in information, ideas, and creative efforts.  Technological advances such as the internet have changed the way people shop, communicate, and participate in entertainment. Freed from the need to locate in a specific place, entrepreneurs choose where to site and build their businesses based on places that best meet their new needs for community, culture, recreation, housing, and connection with peers.  They desire a location that supports their lifestyle and encourages their enterprise to grow.  They are looking for a special place, and the presence of a vibrant downtown is often key to whether a specific city is that place. 

CGS works with downtown leaders to revitalize struggling downtowns and make strong downtowns even stronger.  We recognize that a balance of retail, office, residential, institutional, recreational and other uses is needed to create sustainable 24 hour community centers.  Through training, research, conferences, and community specific technical assistance, CGS staff shares the resources of NIU and our network of experts with community leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  A variety of resources can be found on this page, including upcoming events, material from past workshops, examples of best practices, models and templates for local projects, and sources for data and information.

Learn how your community can participate in the Great Downtowns Growing Cities initiative.

NEW! Findings on Downtowns from Survey of Illinois Mayors

For additional resources, visit the Great Downtowns Growing Cities Toolbox

Creative Enterprises and Downtown Prosperity

The creative economy is one of the most talked about topics in downtown development. What it includes and how to incorporate it into  economic growth planning and downtown revitalization are discussed in the resources listed below. For additional information contact Mim Evans,, or Norm Walzer, Access the GDGC toolbox for additional resources on the creative economy.

NEW!  Emergence and Growth of Community Supported Enterprises

Local development agencies organize groups of residents to invest in business ventures commonly known as Community Supported Enterprises or Businesses. These ventures are often motivated by the potential loss of a grocery store, restaurant, or other establishment considered vital to quality of life in the community. Motivated by a need to maintain or build social capital, a group of residents pool their investments to purchase a building or on-going establishment and then hire an operator to manage the business with returns paid to the organizing agency. These agencies may be a nonprofit, LLC, Cooperative or other type of organization. Emergence and Support of Community Supported Enterprises is a North Central Regional Center for Rural Development funded project that examines how CSEs are organized and operate in several states. It involves a collaborative effort between the Center for Governmental Studies, University of Wisconsin Extensive, and Michigan State Extension.

Executive Summary| Full Report

The Back to the City Movement: Will It Help Illinois' Smaller Cities?

This CGS Policy Profile outlines what your small city can do to capture growth in residents, businesses and revenue generated by renewed interest in urban lifestyles. Read it here.

Training and Events

CGS regularly offers workshops for local downtown development organization staff and volunteers, city staff and officials, economic development professionals, chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs, students, and others interested in downtown revitalization.  The workshops are held around the state throughout the year.  Click on the upcoming events below for information on topics, dates, and locations.  For information on past workshops, click on the past events below to read about the workshop and download material from the workshop. Workshops often sell out so advance registration is recommended.


  New Perspectives on Growing Local Economies
  April 3, 2017 - DeKalb IL

Conference Overview (pdf); Conference Program (pdf); Speaker Bios (pdf); Illinois Tourism Presentation (pdf); Tangled Roots Presentation (pdf); Great Downtowns Growing Cities Report (pdf); An Orange Moon Presentation (video)


The Creative Economy and Downtown Workshop
Feb. 26, 2016 - DeKalb IL

Agenda (pdf); Speaker Biographies (pdf); Financial Models for Creative Enterprises (xls); Business Plan for Creative Enterprises (doc); Services for Owners of Creative Enterprises (pdf); Developing a Creative Economy presented by Pam Schallhorn, University of Illinois Extension (pdf); Architects as Creative Entrepreneurs presented by Lisa Sharp, Sharp Architects (pdf); Six Corners Chicago Revitalization, presented by Kelli Weffenstette (pdf); Creative Enconomy, presented by Anne Katz, Art Wisconsin (pdf); Creative Economy Final Report (pdf)

Growing Your Farmers Market Workshop
Jan. 29, 2016 - DeKalb IL

Taking the Next Step: Nonprofits as Developers, Landlords and Business Owners
April 21, 2015, Sterling, IL
Wednesday, April 29, 2015, Mount Vernon, IL

Project Development from Start to Finish
Sept. 23, 2014, Macomb, IL

Closing the Deal:  Bringing New Businesses to Your Downtown
Jan. 16, 2014, Dwight, IL
Jan. 27, 2014, Alton, IL

Growing the Businesses You Have:  Business Retention Strategies 
March 11, 2014, Jacksonville, IL
Feb. 6, 2014, Libertyville, IL

Great Downtowns Growing Cities Toolbox

Local Great Downtowns Growing Cities organizations carry out a wide range of programs and projects requiring specialized knowledge and resources.  This toolbox contains tools that downtown development executive directors and volunteers can use to assist downtown businesses, carry out downtown improvement projects, provide information for residents and visitors and run their own organizations effectively.  Some of the tools can be downloaded and posted on local websites.  Others can be linked to local websites.  New tools will be added over time. Visit the Great Downtowns Growing Cities Toolbox.  

Main Street

Illinois Main Street
Communities Contact Information

Need to reach a local Main Street organization?  Find contacts for every Illinois Main Street organization here.

Main Street as a Downtown Revitalization Strategy in Illinois

Illinois Main Street contracted with the Center for Governmental Studies to prepare a report on the status of the Main Street program at the state and local level.  All Illinois local Main Street organizations were surveyed to obtain information on their organizations, performance, needs and districts.  This information was combined with group discussions and research on best practices in other states to arrive at options for the future of Main Street in Illinois.  An executive summary and the full report are available below. 

Additional information on the Main Street program is available at

Executive Summary | Full Report


For additional information about Great Downtowns Growing Cities, please contact:

Mim Evans
Research Associate
Center for Governmental Studies, NIU

Norman Walzer
Senior Research Scholar
Center for Governmental Studies, NIU


Conference Presentations