Our View: Mainstreet worth funding | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Mainstreet worth funding

Private development is fueling unprecedented redevelopment in downtown Steamboat Springs. In the coming years, that transformation should lead to a more successful business district and thus increased sales tax revenues for a city that entirely depends on them.

It’s therefore reasonable for the city to spend as much as $100,000 in 2009 to help market and promote the downtown core. That funding, if approved, would go to Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, which last week made its request to the City Council. Mainstreet officials said the money would help fund the group’s operations, programming and potentially the hiring of a special events coordinator.

But such city funding shouldn’t come without some expectations, including increased membership and events, and an aggressive, comprehensive marketing plan.

Now in its fourth year, Mainstreet Steamboat Springs has grown into a 137-member organization with an annual operating budget of $145,000. Mainstreet Steamboat has membership in a national program aimed at helping communities revitalize their historic commercial districts. The push to create the local group began in 2003 as a result of the rapid growth of new commercial districts on U.S. Highway 40 and a belief that the downtown represents the heart of the community.

Local Mainstreet organizers had to demonstrate three years of funding to be accepted to the Colorado Community Revitalization Association, which administers the state’s Mainstreet Program. The city of Steamboat Springs provided $60,000 in funding in 2006, $63,000 in 2007 and $65,000 this year. The city also provided $30,000 to Mainstreet Steamboat in 2005.

Mainstreet’s most visible efforts are on the marketing and promotions end, with events such as summer farmers markets being the most recognizable. Mainstreet officials, however, say much of their work is done behind the scenes, including efforts to improve the downtown streetscape and parking and congestion issues.

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There’s real value to an organization such as Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, particularly given the importance of downtown sales tax revenues to the city’s bottom line. Having a group that advocates solely for the downtown district is needed – even more so now with the extensive construction taking place at the ski area base.

But we’d like to see more downtown businesses sign on to Mainstreet membership. Barnett said only about 50 percent of downtown restaurants are members, and about 80 percent of downtown retailers pay dues to Mainstreet Steamboat. Service businesses have a much lower rate of membership.

Last November, downtown property owners and commercial tenants narrowly rejected a ballot measure that would have taxed themselves to fund improvements in a downtown business improvement district. The measure would have provided as much as $120,000 a year to promote special events, develop marketing and beautify the downtown area, among other things.

A “yes” vote would have sent a powerful message about business owners’ support and dedication to improving and marketing their entities, and would make it easier for the city to sign off on additional funding for Mainstreet Steamboat.

Nonetheless, using city funding to hire a special events coordinator/office staffer could help Mainstreet renew an aggressive membership drive and increase its focus on marketing and event creation.

Mainstreet officials are asking for $65,000 for the city, with a potential $35,000 match of funds Mainstreet is able to raise on its own. The potential total – $100,000 – is just a percentage of what those dollars could realize in sales tax receipts for the city.

But without better business participation and visible accomplishments, it’s going to be more difficult to lobby for such funding in future years.