St. Joseph has long needed to pare down an unwieldy and overlapping assortment of groups and organizations that seek to promote and improve the Downtown district. Even college marketing students with no connection to St. Joseph saw that.
So the Downtown Partnership’s demise seems to represent a step toward that end. Or, did this group simply cry uncle after attempts to unify various groups, including the Downtown Partnership, Downtown First and the Downtown Association, failed to yield an agreement?
Our vision, in advocating for some rationalization of Downtown groups, websites and marketing efforts, was for different parties to put egos aside and hash out a more coherent structure for how to promote and improve this key part of our city. We can’t say that has happened.
Right now, the Downtown Partnership’s decision to disband creates questions for the Downtown Community Improvement District, which contributed about $15,000 to the partnership and utilized Rhabecca Boerkircher in an executive function and as an non-voting board member. Boerkircher also was executive director of the Downtown Partnership.
The CID collects about $95,000 a year in special taxes on Downtown property and sales, so about 15 percent went to the partnership. Downtown voters approved the CID in 2011 and allowed these funds, which have been used for the “Sounds of Summer” concert series, sculptures, holiday lights and other amenities, to be dispersed through a community board. The board is completely independent of the St. Joseph City Council.
That means it is completely independent of Councilman Bryan Myers, a Downtown business owner, who does not sit on this board. Myers has a different vision for Downtown and led an effort to cut the Downtown Partnership’s share of city general revenue, which the council does have control of, by about $18,000. Myers questions the return on investment and suggests that Downtown businesses do better working separately from the partnership.
Plenty of cities have seen a dynamic urban environment develop more or less organically, which suggests that the Myers lone wolf approach has merit.
Still, there’s a lot you can do with nearly $100,000, and that money remains in the CID coffers for funding various improvements and events through an independent board. Downtown still has multiple organizations, like Downtown First and the Downtown Association, that seem to work toward similar ends. It has a councilman who could serve as a critical voice for Downtown but sometimes sows discord.
The elimination of the Downtown Partnership shows there’s still plenty of work to do in getting Downtown on the same page. This recent subtraction doesn’t necessarily make the math any easier to fathom.