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Home News-Telegram News DBA chief praises, criticizes downtown efforts

DBA chief praises, criticizes downtown efforts

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The president of the Downtown Business Alliance appeared before the City Council Tuesday night, keeping a promise made two years ago to “keep their feet to the fire” regarding downtown development.

Rita Edwards spoke during the public forum of the regular monthly meeting, both praising the strides downtown has made under the guidance of City Manager Marc Maxwelll, city staff and the council, but also criticizing the powers that be for a lack of continued communication that she says leaves local merchants feeling disenfranchised.

Edwards began her seven-minute speech by heaping praise on the city manager for the downtown improvements that came when the business alliance proposed in June of 2007 that the council apply for the state’s Main Street program, which offers cities support, resources, training and some grant money as well as marketing opportunities.

But Maxwell asked the council to turn down the request, saying projections are that paying a manager for the project and related costs would be near $80,000 a year for a minimum of three years.

Instead, he proposed that he and the city staff work on a long-range plan to make downtown “alive,” a place to live, work, shop, play and dine.”

At the time, Edwards and the downtown alliance membership agreed to let Maxwell move forward, but with reservations.

“Because of the city’s lack of interest and some mistrust in the past, we’re going to hold them accountable,”  Edwards said after the July 2007 meeting, but also said, “We’re very dedicated to this, and we’ll keep the community informed and involved.”

From that meeting sprung the seeds of two years of planning and development that have resulted in a highly praised remodel of Main Street with similar efforts now starting on Connally Street. The council has also created a special district that will plow millions of dollars in increased taxes resulting from the improvements back into downtown, allowing for rebuilt roads, infrastructure, a downtown park, a covered market and other amenities.

“It is undeniable Mr. Maxwell has stepped up to the plate and delivered as promised,” Edwards said Tuesday. “We appreciate everything Mr. Maxwell and the City Council have done for downtown. Your support of our efforts has been wonderful.

“The vision and common-sense approach you have exhibited has been welcome relief to what could have been an undesirable situation.”

But she also criticized other aspects of the relationship between the downtown merchants and the city of Sulphur Springs.

She reminded the council that she had requested the city manager meet with three DBA members once a month to keep them abreast of plans, and for their ideas and opinions to be taken into account.

“However, this is no longer the case, and the meetings have become nonexistent,” Edwards said, but acknowledged that the meetings had been consistently attended at the outset.

“We take part of the blame for that. Due to certain circumstances, some of the officers have not been able to continue those meetings. But this can be remedied,” she said. “We realize the tremendous time restraints Mr. Maxwell deals with, and we appreciate his attendance at our weekly meetings when he does have the time. If the monthly meetings would be reinstated, it would remedy all these problems.”

Another issue, Edwards said, is an “increasing lack of communication” between Maxwell and his staff and the DBA and downtown merchants.

“We feel the existing merchants and the Downtown Business Alliance can provide valuable input for future revitalization efforts and events which is currently not being solicited, or even welcomed,” she said. “As a matter of fact, at times it’s been dismissed.”

She argued it is important that the merchants and alliance have a voice in downtown development, “especially since some of these businesses have kept downtown on life support for so many years.”

She said the communication breakdown has also resulted in apathy among many business owners.

“One of the reasons that so many existing merchants don’t participate is because they feel that they’re not part of the process,” she said. “When asked to be a part of our organization, they respond with, ‘It doesn’t matter what we think, the city will do what it wants to, so why bother?’ That’s a sad commentary and one that needs to be addressed. You have to be able to work with the existing merchants while attracting new businesses.”

She also acknowledged, however, that the merchants themselves must take a more active role and attend meetings and discussions on downtown plans, whether it relates to events or renovations.

“We have some very exciting and innovative ideas,” Edwards said. “We are confident with the City Council’s guidance and support — along with our being a vital part of the planning with Mr. Maxwell and his staff, and bringing the merchants into the loop — that the end result will be for the betterment of our city as well as the wealth of our community. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get back to working together.”

Maxwell listened to all of Edwards’ comments at the meeting but had no response at the time. He did say Wednesday, however, that it was disheartening to hear such criticism after the amount of work that has been done in the downtown area.

“It’s a shame that, after a year of hard work and $4 million of commitments and construction, that they’re still not happy,” he said “It’s very frustrating. I’ll just leave it at that.”

 

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