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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 7 months ago

Downtown group researches event opportunities

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A consultant is working with the Downtown Improvement District on the possible creation of an events coordinator position.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Despite some skepticism and uncertainty, the Downtown Improvement District continues to explore the possibility of hiring someone to oversee events and marketing for the heart of the city.

At its Feb. 5 meeting, the DID agreed to hire Stephanie Immelman to produce a report on the creation of a new position, described as a “destination marketing and events coordinator.” Immelman is executive director of the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative, a group that manages events and promotes the east coast Florida city as a destination.

The DID’s goal is to establish a central person responsible for those same duties downtown. The group believes such a position could help address issues related to special events and craft promotional initiatives to improve the vitality of downtown.

Immelman’s report will include recommendations on the existing calendar of downtown events and potential changes to the strategies in place today.

DID board members have expressed frustration with the city’s events policies. They’ve said the associated fees create a barrier for nonprofit events while allowing larger commercial events featuring vendors that compete with downtown businesses.

The DID has suggested a coordinator could help prioritize community-oriented events, which the group believes would be more beneficial for stores and restaurants. Ideally, the position could also help unite stakeholders behind a common promotional cause. Because no funding source has been identified for the position, the DID has targeted the city, the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and other groups as partners.

Already, some have expressed doubt about the possibility of overcoming the fractured nature of downtown organizations. Immelman’s plans to interview different groups about the possibility of collaborating on this initiative, including those in neighboring areas like the Rosemary District and Towles Court.

Board member Ron Soto said previous efforts to unite the disparate groups behind a common cause have been fruitless. That includes the DID’s recent efforts to engage with a consultant on a unified brand for downtown.

“It’s got us nowhere,” Soto said. “I think in the long run, that’s what we’re going to find out this is going to be, too.”

Other members were also skeptical, but they thought a successful effort to reshape events and marketing in the downtown core could eventually generate more widespread interest in participating in such a program.

The DID voted 4-1 to hire Immelman for $4,500. Board member Wayne Ruben hoped the process would lead to changes benefiting businesses.

“Our retailers need to thrive down here,” Ruben said. “We need to do as much as we can to help support our merchants and retailers.”

Bright idea

DID board member Mark Kauffman wants Main Street to lighten up.

At the Feb. 5 meeting, Kauffman floated an idea: creating a new program to light the tops of downtown buildings. He said St. Armands Circle had previously undertaken a similar initiative about 15 years ago, and he thought the effects were remarkable.

“It looked magical at night,” Kauffman said. “It was incredible.”

Eventually, the bulbs burnt out on those St. Armands buildings, and businesses scrapped the lights. But given the advancements made in lighting technology, Kauffman thinks it’s a viable option for downtown.

As a starting point, Kauffman suggested a lighting program could be limited to the streets where the city plans to install paid parking. Later this year, the city intends to place parking meters on Main Street and Palm Avenue. Kauffman said the initiative could use funds from parking revenue, though he said the DID should be willing to at least front the money.

The board had some questions about the costs and logistics of adding the lights, but the group expressed interest in further exploring the topic. The board agreed to research the expenses and continue the discussion at a future meeting.

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