Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Economic Development Commission Approved

The Express-Times reports on the Nazareth Borough Council’s approval of an Economic Development Commission (read the article here).

This is a critical issue and I want to take some time to provide some insight as I’ve been involved to varying extents in several ways over the past five years.

Background

Without a question, Nazareth Borough needs to revitalize its downtown district. I was a part of a group about four years ago that tried to become a part of the PA Downtown Association program, but unfortunately as our paperwork was filed, the state changed the program and cut funding. Since that time, we’ve lost more businesses in the downtown.

Recent Discussions

I also attended a few meetings late last year by residents, merchants, property owners, elected officials and Nazareth Chamber members. While I can’t speak for everyone, there was a seeming understanding by most that our business rental properties offer good value for the cost compared to other downtown areas (Bethlehem, Easton, etc), that we need to help promote the value of our downtown as a good place to locate a business, that we need to attract businesses with more significant numbers of employees to provide a base of potential consumers for services (dry cleaning), restaurants (breakfast, lunch), and shops in the downtown such as a call center or even government offices.

Key Takeaway

Moreover, it was agreed that despite everyone’s individual best intentions, a volunteer committee alone would not be able to develop and promote our downtown. We would need to have a dedicated, paid individual supported by a volunteer Board/Commission that reported to the Council.

Proposed General Solution

The Commission would then identify the top priorities, and the paid individual would be charged with making those priorities happen by working with other development agencies, finding available grants, working with realtors, and any other organizations and individuals necessary. The article in the Express mentions façade grants and the like, and those are nice to have’s, but the group mostly agreed they will have to come after the storefronts are filled, not beforehand.

It was discussed whether we could revise the by-laws of the Nazareth Downtown Association, which had attained its 501(C)(3) not-for-profit designation from the IRS and apply it to the Commission. This would give the commission a tax exempt status to accept corporate and individual donations. The cost to file for this is $800, so transferring would give the new Commission a jump start.

Doing this would structure the Commission along the lines of the Cultural and Arts Commission (of which I am active as their Business Manager). The Center is operated in part to attract people to Nazareth’s downtown while providing entertainment that improves quality of life for residents. Modeling the Economic Development Commission after the Cultural and Arts Commission made sense.

The Chambers

The article mentions both the Nazareth Area Chamber of Commerce (NACC) and the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce (GLVCC). Both organizations have shown an interest in helping Nazareth develop its downtown. Neither, however, is solely dedicated to Nazareth’s downtown. For that reason, the Commission should work to receive support from both organizations.

The Chamber Challenge

And while neither Chamber is responsible to support the Borough, nor does the Borough have any authority over either Chamber. They are all independent of one another. As a matter of fact, each Chamber is only responsible to its members. As such, there may be an internal conflict in supporting the downtown by either Chamber, if the businesses in the downtown are not members of one, the other, or either Chamber.

A further challenge is the side issue that the GLVCC has several times approached the NACC about merging and the NACC has no interest. This appears to have caused an animosity by some individuals affiliated with the organizations toward one another.

Next Steps

A good next step is to fill the now approved Commission, establish a multi-year plan, and seek grants toward the hiring of at least a part-time manager.  Given grant processes and funding allocations, it is likely that 2011 will be a planning year and if funds are secured a manager could be available 2012. While this seems like a long way off, when we consider the depletion of our downtown over the past few years, it is very important to work toward saving it, before it is completely lost.

Posted via email from Ross Nunamaker

3 comments:

anonymous said...

I have three words for the failure of downtown Nazareth...parking, parking, parking.

IMO, you need at least one nice pub/restaurant that seats more than 30 people to act as an anchor to generate foot traffic. Imagine if a place with comparable seating and ambiance to Detzi's Tavern in Wind Gap (where every Friday and Saturday night there is a line of families to be seated) was located on Main Street. Without parking, it can't happen.

NewsOverCoffee said...

Parking is readily available. We've had several shows with 60-80 people on a saturday night at the same time the Jacksonian had a show and townhouse, sushi, goodfellas and other places were open and no one complained they couldn't find parking.

They have to want to come.

Yes you do need anchor buildings. This is a part of what a manager needs to recruit.

Art said...

More frequent public transportation would help, of course there needs to be a reason for it to come here.
We need to determine what kind of businesses could be here that would be unique to Nazareth.