Downtown businesses will feel loss of downtown manager position

Jun. 30, 2014 @ 07:25 PM

When Tonya Burrell found out the downtown manager position would not be funded this year, she was not happy.

“We were really upset about it because we did see a change in how the downtown manager would get businesses together,” said Burrell, who owns the Lotus Lounge on Garnett Street.

Funding for the full-time Main Street manager position was not included in the city’s 2014-2015 budget, which was adopted June 11, but $10,000 remains to keep the Downtown Development Commission afloat.

The position was established in the 2012-’13 budget, and the city council allocated $53,200 per year for it at that time.

Burrell, who has been on Garnett Street for three years, said former manager Pam Hester had a positive impact on downtown.

“She would kind of keep businesses connected, and now there is no connection down here,” she said. “It’s hard for us to run a business, and then after having to run a business try to get the other business owners together and have events and all that. I personally can’t do it because I have a business to run.”

Deryl Von Williams, who owns the Village Cafe, said the manager position is vital to a thriving downtown.

“This is the first person we have had to invest in downtown and keep people here,” she said. “There needs to be someone to coordinate things for downtown.”

During Halloween this year, Hester supplied candy for businesses to pass out.

“Normally, I spend $200 to $300 on Halloween candy,” said Von Williams. “This was the first time since I’ve been downtown that I haven’t run out of candy.”

The Downtown Development Commission is part of the North Carolina Main Street Program, which helps communities restore economic vitality to their historic downtowns by providing technical assistance and training.

But resources through the Main Street Program are only available to eligible communities that have a full-time downtown manager.

Without that position, Henderson no longer has access to services and opportunities from the state program.

The city council decided to keep Hester as the zoning administrator, which was vacated recently by Sherry Moss who has announced plans to leave the position.

They also agreed to use the money the city would have spent on the planning director position — which has been vacant since April when former director Erris Dunston resigned — and put that towards sign and facade grants for downtown storefronts.

Phil Hart, Downtown Development Commission chairman, said the city could allocate $8,000 to $20,000 for those grants.

“The reason why it varies is because they are pulling that money from the vacant planning position,” he said. “It all depends on how long that position stays open.”

He said there is a great deal of uncertainty in the Downtown Development Commission’s future.

“We have all sorts of ideas of what we would like to do, but in our discussions we have to realize we don’t have Pam anymore,” he said. “So, all the things we are going to talk about that we are going to do, it’s up to us to do these things.”

 

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.