Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer
FAYETTEVILLE — The city may soon have an official business association defending the entire downtown core for the first time in 13 years.
The Fayetteville Publicity and Promotions Commission voted unanimously on Monday to create a position of director of downtown initiatives and allocate $100,000 to the effort.
The new hire will start as an employee of the city’s tourist office, Experience Fayetteville, and eventually become an employee of the independent organization and report to its board of directors, said Molly Rawn, CEO of ‘Fayetteville Experience and Executive Director of the Commission.
The city had a former downtown association called Fayetteville Downtown Partners, but that group disbanded in 2009 following a two-year economic downturn.
Rawn said organizing a new downtown association was something she’s wanted to see happen in Fayetteville since she was first hired by the commission in 2016.
“I think Fayetteville needs a strong downtown association,” Rawn said. “At Experience Fayetteville, we have worked extensively with initiatives and programs that are usually implemented by a downtown association…but sometimes they are not exactly in our tourism wheelhouse.
Commissioner Todd Martin, owner of Theo’s, East Side Grill and Southern Food Co., agreed and said entertainment district business owners were on board with the idea.
For many years the Dickson Street Merchants Association has championed restaurants and bars on Dickson Street, but the group has recently broadened its remit. Martin said two key figures retired about 18 months ago, leading to a name change and the formation of a transition board to explore the formation of a new center association -town. The group now goes through the Downtown Fayetteville Coalition.
“It was time for Dickson Street merchants to move beyond Dickson Street,” Martin said.
With the revitalization of Block Avenue, the Mill District, the Town Center Plaza and the future Cultural Arts Corridor, Martin said it’s clear there’s more to downtown Fayetteville than just Dickson Street.
Martin said the board’s biggest finding was that there simply wasn’t enough time for individual business owners to run their own stores while running a successful promotional group.
“Everyone has a day job,” Martin said. “And so to be really effective in recruiting and doing the things that need to be done, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Rawn described it as a classic chicken and egg situation.
“I don’t know how they’re going to build a new organization without having a dedicated staff member, and I don’t know how they’re going to hire a staff member without having an organization to hire them from,” Rawn says.
The plan, she said, is therefore for Experience Fayetteville to serve as an incubator in the hope that the new organization can operate on its own after about three years.
Rawn said the process could be similar to how the Northwest Arkansas Council hired a dedicated staff member to promote the region’s creative economy who ultimately helped form and lead the Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange (CACHE) now independent not-for-profit. The Ozark Outdoor Foundation has a similar start-up story that began with a staff member from The Runway Group.
Rawn said there are strong Autonomous Downtown Associations in many areas of the state, including regional towns like Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, Siloam Springs, Eureka Springs and Fort Smith, as well as others. places like Little Rock, Hot Springs, Paragould, Jonesboro and El Dorado.
“We’re one of the only first-class cities in Arkansas that doesn’t have one, so it’s about time,” Rawn said. “But I don’t think we should go it alone.”
Rawn said city officials are supportive of the idea, so she hopes the city council will also allocate funds for the initiative.
City Council members Sarah Bunch and Mark Kinion both sit on the commission as council representatives. Everyone said they liked the idea, but getting board approval will take a convincing argument.
“I like this idea because it’s in my neighborhood, so I say go for it,” said Kinion, who represents Ward 2, which is commonly associated with the Downtown and Dickson Street neighborhoods. “But we have to look at the overall impact.”
Martin said the Downtown Fayetteville Coalition has defined downtown as roughly Maple Street on the north, College Avenue on the east, Arkansas Avenue on the west, and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the south. .
“Now it’s a loose boundary,” Martin said. “For example, we have identified businesses on the other side of the College that would definitely be included.”
Bunch, who represents Ward 3 in northeast Fayetteville, said a concise presentation that clearly outlines how allocating funds to a specific part of the city will benefit the city as a whole will be key to getting the job done. buy-in from residents and the whole council.
“I myself am well aware of the importance of downtown,” Bunch said. “So I think it’s a good possibility, but it will take a lot of tweaking.”
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