MONTROSE – Montrose’s new Downtown Development Authority, approved by voters in the district this spring, won’t start receiving mill levy funds until 2011, but with the recent appointment of Melanie Kline to the DDA board, all vacancies are filled and the board is moving forward.
Bob Brown, chair of the DDA board, said the district has already started receiving funds from the city’s retail enhancement funds, but won’t start getting money to further improve the downtown business climate until next year.
Empty storefronts along Main Street are a major concern of the DDA board, Brown said, and once funding starts coming in and an executive director is selected, more specific action can follow.
“We are trying to put together some sustainable business practices and funding processes, but it’s going to take awhile for that to happen,” Brown said.
The dilemma is what to do in the short term, Brown said, but existing downtown shopkeepers are working collaboratively, especially in advertising, and hosted a downtown open house before the Parade of Lights last week down Main Street.
Brown said the city closed off part of the street and his business, Around the Corner Art Gallery, and most other downtown businesses had specials, offered entertainment and demonstrations and refreshments to shoppers.
“We even had a photographer set up to take Christmas pictures at a highly discounted rate,” Brown said. “Next year we can easily have double the number of vendors out there.”
That sort of fun drums up short-term business and raises morale, but Brown said in the future, the DDA hopes to offer low-interest loans, tax incentives and other measures to help downtown businesses, as well as much more marketing.
“There are things we can do in common, or ways we can help people with say, façade improvements, but it will go much deeper than that. We want to really change the look and feel of downtown.”
The enthusiasm of the DDA board is one reason Kline decided to apply, she said.
“I wanted to get involved because the atmosphere is so positive, and the city is really in favor of this,” she said.
Kline, owner of Ouray Silversmiths, said merchants are also working together with the re-energized Heart of the City Committee, composed of downtown merchants.
“They have this new vitality, new energy, new members and are reinventing themselves right now and will be very active,” she said.
As a new board member, Kline said she is still in the process of finding out where different groups intersect and how they define themselves “so they’re not all not doing the same thing at the same time.” She’s also a member of the retail enhancement committee of the Montrose Association of Commerce and Tourism, she said.
“It’s important to find out what you’re working toward and to what end to make sure we’re all coordinated,” she said.
Moving the DDA in the right direction will also be a task of the new executive director, Brown said, and the DDA will meet with the city next week to discuss a salary. Then a search will begin for qualified applicants, he said.
“It’s got to be a pretty broad person,” Brown said. “The DDA handles a lot of capital funding and different financial things, so they will have to be well-versed in that kind of municipal funding, and very aware of marketing principles and techniques, as well.”
In the meantime, the board is working on a plan of development that it hopes to have finished by the end of March. The board is currently getting initial designs to review, which will then be shared with the public, Brown said.
Other DDA board members are Phuong Nguyen of Coffee Trader, Montrose City Council member Carol McDermott, McDonald’s franchise owner Jenny Long Walker, downtown property owner (and vice chair) Ralph Walchle, and Kirk Hartman of Hartman Brothers.
The DDA is funded by a 5-mill tax levy on residents, property and business owners in the Downtown Development Authority District, according to Brown. That will generate $122,275 in 2011 at a median cost of $21 per month for each of the 310 properties in the district.
Brown said the DDA approves of recent city work in the downtown area, adding “bulbouts” with benches to make the area more pedestrian friendly, but the DDA has something much more drastic in mind.
“We are getting concept designs for what we want the street to look like, with improvements to the infrastructure and if we want to change a road direction,” he said. “The bulbouts are a small change next to where we’re going.”