Downtown manager funded for two-year trial

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city will have a downtown manager soon.

The part-time, two-year position will be funded through a grant from the Lakeshore Community Foundation, the Redevelopment Authority was told at their meeting Thursday.

“We’ve been talking about this between the RDA and the chamber,” City Administrator Brian Yerges told the RDA.

The grant will provide $75,000 to pay for a 20-hour a week position, as well as office space downtown and other costs.

The grant money will go the Plymouth of Chamber of Commerce, which will cover administration of the position. The new manager will be considered a chamber employee, Yerges said.

“Our goal is to have somebody on board by sometime in June,” RDA Chair Lee Gentine added.

“We are looking at an office that will be downtown, where the person will be located. They will not be in the chamber office,” Gentine assured the RDA members.

“Are there goals, are there initial expectations of what we expect them to achieve,” RDA member David Williams asked of the prospective downtown manager.

Gentine said chamber is working on developing those guidelines with the RDA, the Downtown Business Association and city officials.

“It’s real hard to determine how much a person can get done in 20 hours (a week),” Gentine continued. “We would expect this person would be spending a minimal amount of time in the office. We would expect them to be spending a majority of their time with business owners.”

He said the search would be for someone with strong marketing and communication skills, possibly with experience with a business improvement district or Main Street program.

“It will be real interesting to see what kind of candidates we find,” Gentine said.

“It’s really appropriate to call it a pilot project, because it’s going to evolve,” Gentine stated.

RDA member Carole O’Malley said the DBA is supporting the new position enthusiastically.

“We’re very much agreed it’s going to be helpful,” O’Malley said of the proposed downtown manager. “We’ve been talking about this forever. The downtown agrees basically that we’re way too busy running our own businesses to work 20 hours a week for the downtown. We’re all looking forward to it.”

“One of the things this person hopefully will be doing is to recruit people and fill spaces downtown,” Gentine said.

The Lakeshore Community Foundation in Manitowoc is serving as a conduit for funds solicited from private donors in Plymouth for the position, Yerges explained.

The money will paid by the foundation to the city, which in turn will pass them on to the chamber to administer.

Gentine emphasized that the grant will only be for a two-year period.

“We’re not going to have another grant to continue this in perpetuity,” he explained. If the city and downtown businesses find the position valuable and worth continuing after the two-year grant period, Gentine said, funding mechanisms such as a BID or the Main Street program could be explored.

“I want to acknowledge the Lakeshore Community Foundation,” RDA member Jackie Jarvis commented. “They valued our need to restore and revitalize our downtown. It’s just an incredible and rare opportunity we have.”

“I’m very pleased we’ve progressed to this point. It’s really a step in the right direction for us. It’s not going to be particularly easy for us because we’re creating a new position and there might be hurdles out there we don’t know about, but I’m optimistic that a year from now we’ll be ahead of where we are now,” Williams concluded.

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