Over fifty people, many of them building and business owners, showed up at 8 am this morning in the Riverview Conference Room of the Historic Archer House to discuss Downtown Issues and develop Actions Plans.
The group started by raising the issues that effected many of the owners in downtown, including business and building owner Lee Lansing, business and building owner Norman Butler and building owner Victor Summa, the three “experts” that opened the discussion with brief remarks.
Lansing talked about Downtown’s place in the City’s Comprehensive Plan and the Council’s Priorities. He urged the group to hold their leaders accountable for implementing plans and making investments that help to strengthen downtown. Butler played the learned professor, diagramming all of the external forces that impact building and business financial operations. He pointed out that many owners work for a ten percent profit after capital, labor and materials costs, often seeing up to another 8% eaten up by other costs. Victor Summa talked about the challenges of financing the build-out of potential tenants. He said that no one in the leasing equation wants to shoulder too much risk and without risk, there will be no new businesses, no new entrepreneurs, no new ideas and no new restaurants.
The attendees brought up long-standing issues like high taxes, the challenge of maintaining and upgrading historic buildings, and the prohibitive expense of retro-fitting a code-compliant kitchen into a old building. Some new issues were surfaced, such as the relative effectiveness of the community’s business and economic development organizations, the focus of and resources behind various marketing efforts and the perceptions and reality of downtown retailers competing with the Walmarts of the world.
Frankly, some of the recommended actions were a surprise to me. Although suggestions like greater coordination of marketing efforts and more user friendly financial tools are things that the NDDC has long been working on, the prioritization given to keeping the library and the liquor store downtown was supported by an unexpected passion. Many, many people listed these items as critical activities for the next 12 months.
We will continue to refine these issues and actions over the next couple of weeks. We plan to cycle back to the building and business owners once more and then formally release our plans.
Thanks to all who joined us today.