Holli Andrews spent the last five years building a cohesive community in downtown Framingham, Mass. After a week on the job as the new executive director of Saline Main Street, one thing was quite clear. Community cohesiveness is already here.
“What an incredible community this is. I am a community planner and I feel like I do not have to develop community here. It’s already in place,” Andrews said.
Saline Main Street has been without an executive director since September, when Riley Hollenbaugh resigned and moved to Indiana. Karen Ragland, a charter member of the downtown revitalization organization, performed administrative duties as the search for a replacement became protracted.
Andrews has spent the last two weeks moving in to her new home and getting to know the community.
She was born in Flint but moved to Maine with her family when she was just a year old. About 30 years ago, her parents moved back to Michigan, but she stayed there because it was home. She’d been thinking of moving back to Michigan when she saw the Saline Main Street job posting.
“I wanted to be close to my parents. My family is here. So when this job came up, it seemed like a perfect way to get back to my roots,” Andrews said.
A community planner with a background in art and natural resource management, she holds a master's degree in community development from the Muskie School of Public Service and a bachelor of science from Unity College in Maine. She has 10 years in the field, most recently as the director for a downtown revitalization nonprofit in Metrowest Boston.
Andrews has spent 10 years in downtown revitalization. She grew up on a small airport owned by her grandfather.
“I grew up looking out the window at 70s sprawl and the pollution of the rivers and lakes,” Andrews said. “My dad was driven by those concerns and he passed that on to me.”
Andrews joined the environmental movement and studied ecology. For awhile, she worked on a farm. Then she worked with at-risk youth. Eventually, she began working in downtown revitalization.
So what’s the connection between the environment and downtown revitalization?
“Downtowns combat sprawl. They encourage people to drive their cars and walk around. And that also improves air quality,” Andrews said.
Andrews spent five years as executive director of Framingham Downtown Renaissance, an organization she helped launch in 2012.
It was a challenging post.
“When I began, people did not want to go downtown. The sidewalks were in poor shape. The lighting was poor. There was a lot of petty crime,” Andrews said. “We had many ethnic business owners who spoke different languages, but the business communities were isolated.”
Five years later, she left a downtown with better lighting, more green spaces and and a cohesive community of business owners, property owners and town officials.
Framingham wasn’t officially a “Main Street” community, but it used the organizations patented four-point approach: economic vitality, design, promotion and organization.
“The Main Street foundation is tried and true. It works,” Andrews said.
She’s looking forward to applying the principles in Saline. As well as the cohesive community, Andrews is impressed by the physical structures in downtown Saline.
“The character and integrity of the buildings is impressive. There’s a lot of potential,” Andrews said. “We can always grow and be better and I’m delighted to be a part of it.”
In Framingham, Andrews helped organize successful events to bring people to downtown. She’ll do the same in Saline. A press release issued by Main Street suggests that Andrews will turn her focus to grant writing, volunteer support and economic development.
"Everyone I meet wants to tell me about how special Saline is. Local pride is boundless here. And, I'm constantly amazed at how many people get involved at the grassroots level. I've definitely got my work cut out for me."
Saline Main Street is a private non-profit group formed in 2012 to revitalize downtown Saline. Although it’s private, the group does receive some funding from the City of Saline.