In three months, crews will begin tearing apart the Downtown Mall as part of a $7.5 million dollar renovation . Many merchants are concerned that the five-month long process of installing new bricks will disrupt their business. A marketing plan is being developed by the Downtown Business Association, and they have requested a $100,000 contribution from the City to help fund it. The campaign will remind area residents that the Mall will be “open for business” during the construction.
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The request was on the consent agenda for City Council’s meeting on October 6, 2008. Staff recommended allocating $50,000 from the Capital Improvement Fund and $50,000 from its Strategic Investment Fund. Councilor David Brown wanted more information on how the money would be spent, so he pulled the item for discussion at the end of the meeting. By Council protocol, consent agenda items not approved at the beginning of the meeting are held for discussion at the end of the meeting, which often means members of the public and staff have to wait until late in the evening to learn of the resolution or be available for questions. The item came back up for discussion shortly after 11:00 PM.
“We’re being asked to expend up to $100,000, a fair amount of money, and I think we should have a public discussion,” Brown said. “What’s anticipated that we would do?”
The City participated in a similar marketing program when the Downtown Mall was extended in front of City Hall. In that case, merchants supported the effort through direct or in-kind donations. Economic Development Director Aubrey Watts said that campaign featured television and radio ads telling people that construction did not stop the Mall from being open. He said the ads are similar to those that market the Mall for the holidays.
Councilor Satyendra Huja said he supported the efforts, but wanted to know specifically how the money would be used, and wanted to know more information about the matches to be provided by merchants. Watts said he could provide that information when it is ready, but that the campaign is still under development. Neighborhood Development Services Director Jim Tolbert said staff is still working with the Downtown Business Association on that. He added the campaign may include “celebrations” as each block of the Mall is renovated.
Huja said he could support spending $50,000 at this time, but wanted to reserve judgment on the rest of the money until he had more information on how the money would be spent. The rest of the Council agreed to that allocation for now, but Brown reminded Watts that Council will have to say “no” to a lot of funding requests next year.