The Main Street Program:
The city has been a participant in the Main Street program since 1990… coming up on 25 years. The program is run in our city by Greater New Port Richey Main Street, Inc, a non-profit organization.
There are four components to the Main Street Program (quotes from the National Main Street Center):
- Organization – “Organization establishes consensus and cooperation by building partnerships among the various groups that have a stake in the commercial district.” Consensus building is a key part of this.
- Promotion – “Promotion takes many forms, but the goal is to create a positive image that will rekindle community pride and improve consumer and investor confidence in your commercial district. Advertising, retail promotions, special events, and marketing campaigns help sell the image and promise of Main Street to the community and surrounding region.” The idea is to bring shoppers into the downtown.
- Design – “Design means getting Main Street into top physical shape and creating a safe, inviting environment for shoppers, workers, and visitors.” In other words, the Main Street program should encourage the sprucing up of the city.
- Economic Restructuring – “The goal is to build a commercial district that responds to the needs of today’s consumers.”
There are eight guiding principles:
- Comprehensive – “No single focus — lavish public improvements, name-brand business recruitment, or endless promotional events — can revitalize Main Street.”
- Incremental – “Baby steps come before walking.”
- Self Help – “No one else will save your Main Street. “
- Partnerships – “Both the public and private sectors have a vital interest in the district and must work together to achieve common goals of Main Street’s revitalization.”
- Identifying and capitalizing on existing assets – “Business districts must capitalize on the assets that make them unique. “
- Quality – “Emphasize quality in every aspect of the revitalization program.”
- Change – “A carefully planned Main Street program will help shift public perceptions and practices to support and sustain the revitalization process. “
- Implementation – “To succeed, Main Street must show visible results that can only come from completing projects.”
Where We Are Now:
So how has our Main Street program stacked up in addressing each of the four components and following the eight guiding principles?
I would suggest that the performance has been uneven at best. In my view, Greater New Port Richey Main Street has been “organizationally challenged” over the years.
Main Street has had a succession of executive directors over the last several years. It has also had an extremely small core of volunteers. Both have hindered the organization’s performance.
Growing the business membership has got to be a key focus for the group. The membership needs to be involved.
Stability at the top is also key. You can’t have a revolving door on the executive director’s office and expect things to run well. You also can’t depend on a part time person to get the job done.
One bright spot has been the recent emergence of the “Hospitality Managers Association” committee. As the name implies, this committee represents the restaurants and bars.
The broader based “Business Owners Association” committee has been moribund for the last couple of years. The monthly meetings of this group were replaced by “Lunch & Learn” meetings that have often been little more than marketing presentations by the guest speaker. The interactions between members of the BOA have disappeared, as have some of the cooperative marketing efforts that the group used to promote.
Main Street’s promotional activities have been limited almost exclusively to hosting large special events. While this falls under the “Promotion banner”, it fails the “comprehensive” principle because of the general lack of anything else being accomplished.
Main Street activities in the design area have been limited to occasionally recognizing a business with a nice storefront. Other plans, such as printing up “murals” on vinyl sheets that could be applied to empty storefront windows around town have never materialized.
This is another area where Main Street simply hasn’t been effective.
The Underlying Issue:
In a word, “money.”
Financial support from the city, especially during the last several years, has been nominal at best. In large measure because of a lack of funding, Main Street has done precious little beyond throwing special events. Because of this, there have been repeated efforts to make further cuts to Main Street’s funding or even eliminate it completely. During one particularly contentious budget session a few years back, Judy Debella-Thomas had to resign as executive director of Main Street in order to cast the deciding vote on city council to fund Main Street. Two executive directors later she was rehired by Main Street, potentially setting the stage for a repeat city funding crisis.
Greater New Port Richey Main Street has been trying to run on a shoestring budget and support itself primarily through special events. The last two special events have been hurt by inclement weather. Betting the financial health of an organization on the weather is insane.
As a community, we need to decide whether or not it is worthwhile for New Port Richey to continue as a Main Street community. Dade City recently shut down its Main Street program. If we don’t want our Main Street program to suffer the same fate, we need to support it.
If Greater New Port Richey Main Street is to continue to exist, it absolutely must have a solid financial base with enough revenues to support a full time staff capable of addressing ALL of the parts of the Main Street program. If the finances can’t be addressed, I do not believe the organization will survive.
Large special events, with the sponsorships they bring can play a role. The two most successful events are the Cotee River Seafood Festival and Boat Show and Main Street Blast. The Seafood Festival is scheduled during the dry season and Main Street Blast is right when the dry season ends and the wet season begins. As a result, both are relatively immune from the torrential rainfall that all but washed out both the Night In the Tropics and the first night of Rocktemberfest.
Main Street Holidays, an event with crossover support from the Chamber of Commerce, is a tradition worth keeping.
Beyond these three events, I suspect that Greater New Port Richey Main Street should cancel the rest and concentrate on other things that would prove its worth to the city and the business community.
While Main Street’s base city funding for FY 14-15 is once again limited to just $10,000, there are other opportunities to generate revenue for the organization. For instance, Main Street could bid to provide specific marketing services for the city in exchange for some of the marketing money in the city budget.
If Main Street can prove its value to its membership, raising dues and soliciting sponsorship dollars from business members isn’t out of the question.
If Main Street were firing on all cylinders and and addressing all the components of a good Main Street program, it would be easier to justify boosting the base city funding.
So where to start? As I mentioned earlier, the Hospitality Managers Association committee has been meeting regularly. Perhaps they are the ones to coordinate the “First Friday” type street parties I suggested last week. Main Street itself could coordinate and produce the cooperative advertising necessary to make the street parties a success. This potentially adds twelve events a year with relatively little effort by staff once the HMA gets things going.
Main Street could recruit more members for its design committee and task then with taking a fresh look at what changes could be made to make the city more inviting, including making recommendations on what type of business and other signage would be beneficial. They could also offer suggestions regarding sidewalk usage, such as that required by coffee shops and other establishments that we would like to see in the downtown. This would also provide a tangible example of why the organization has some value to the city.
The Business Owners Association should be reorganized and monthly meetings should be scheduled. They should be designed for the members to exchange ideas on how to work together. (ie. The “self help” guiding principle)
Main Street should also reboot its Economic Revitalization committee and offer its assistance to the city’s Economic Development office. There is absolutely no reason why volunteers couldn’t help as we try to encourage businesses to move to New Port Richey.
None of these things are rocket science. My company has been a member of Greater New Port Richey Main Street for years and I’ve been a strong supporter during my tenure on city council. I firmly believe that the City of New Port Richey needs a healthy Main Street program in order for us to succeed with the revitalization we all want for our city.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor