Danville approves retail stimulus plan
Downtown business owners to get assistance
Starting this spring, Danville retailers will be getting some help in weathering the financial storm rocking the nation. At their March 3 meeting, members of the Town Council unveiled a $400,000 plan to provide economic stimulus to the downtown business district.
The plan, crafted by Economic Development Director Jill Bergman and Transportation Director Tai Williams, would help businesses using a multi-tiered approach.
Williams said staff had studied the situation with many downtown businesses and determined that the initiatives introduced in the stimulus package would focus on three initiatives.
* Retail retention - helping existing businesses with marketing and promotion efforts.
* Retail expansion - bring further retail into the downtown area through permit processing assistance and fee waivers.
* Modified zoning - temporary relaxation of zoning requirements related to promotional signage and outdoor seating as a means of generating outdoor traffic to retailers.
Each area contained several initiatives. In retail retention, business owners could take part in a marketing workshop to provide some strategies for staying afloat in a down economy. Grants would be available to give businesses the chance to seek out audits and marketing assessments. Retailers would also be given an individual page on the Danville In Style Web site.
Under retail expansion, grant funding assistance would be available to help with facade design consultation and improvements. Additionally, this initiative would provide a "business concierge" service for permit processing assistance. Fees would be waived for permit plan checking, building inspection, business licensing and in lieu parking fees.
More than two dozen area retailers attended the meeting to give their feedback on the new stimulus plan. First to speak to the council was Danville Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Melony Newman. Newman congratulated the council on its forward thinking and promised the full support of the Chamber.
"We are ready to partner with the town. We are happy to promote this program, walking the town business to business. Just let us know how to help," she said. "Together as partners with a unified vision we can navigate through these challenging financial waters."
The majority of the business owners were very supportive of the plan and appreciative of the effort by the council. Some had concerns about how far the plan will go.
Blair Barry of Barry and Volkman architects said that a $1,000 grant for a fašade improvement consultation does not provide enough funding for any meaningful architectural design work. "We get many tenants and building owners who want improvements and are amazed at how much it costs," he explained.
Peter Cedolini, owner of Mangia Mi, questioned the town's in lieu parking fees. Cedolini said fees such as this are keeping businesses from coming into Danville.
"What's more important? Getting these fees or sustaining a business for a longer period? The town needs to be cognizant of what these one-time fees could mean for new businesses," he stated.
Cedolini said his restaurant has the ability to add 20 more chairs inside but he is unable to do so because of the fees. "There's got to be some wiggle room in here to let us grow. I'm struggling right now."
Small Fry Shoppe owner Linda Stolow also called on the council to re-evaluate parking restrictions
"I think we have to change our attitude about parking," she claimed, "because every time we give someone an overtime parking ticket of $25 we turn them away."
Other questions had to do with which businesses would be eligible for some of the stimulus initiatives and how many businesses would be able to take advantage of the plan.
After more than an hour of testimony, council members discussed the plan. Councilman Mike Shimansky said the plan was a good first step. Shimansky said that he agreed with much of the plan but felt there were some problems, such as spending money on consultants for "brand imaging." He suggested postponing the vote on the stimulus package in order to consult with other businesses in town and get their feedback.
Councilman Mike Doyle disagreed. "I don't believe we should put this off another moment. We've already talked about this three times. Town staff has been working on this for months," he said.
Doyle added that he believes the town should get the stimulus plan into the field as soon as possible in order to send the message to the business owners that the council shares their concerns.
The stimulus plan was moved with several caveats: Existing businesses should be allowed to utilize the initiatives available for both new and existing retail; the money allotted for the fašade improvement designs should be increased to $1,500; and the number of businesses that will be helped in the initial implementation of the plan was increased from 10 to 25.
The change to the funding level increased the cost of the plan from $200,000 to $392,500. Mayor Newell Arnerich explained that the town retained almost $500,000 in unattached Community Development Funds, so the increase would not result in any general fund monies being moved over to cover the cost of the program.
Council members approved the plan unanimously, and staff members were directed to make the requested changes. Once those are completed, businesses will be able to apply for one of the initiative plans starting in early April.