Saturday, August 23, 2014

Main Street says membership up, hopes for budget stability from city

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/28/2013

Simply maintaining status quo can be frowned upon in some business circles. But when in comes to funding for their 2014 budget, Ottawa Main Street Association representatives told Ottawa city commissioners Monday status quo was just fine with them.

“We are not asking for an increase in funding from the city,” Becci Shisler, Main Street program director, said. “I know there was some talk last year about maybe decreasing our funding [for 2014]. I would just ask you to please reconsider and keep us where we are at.”

Simply maintaining status quo can be frowned upon in some business circles. But when in comes to funding for their 2014 budget, Ottawa Main Street Association representatives told Ottawa city commissioners Monday status quo was just fine with them.

“We are not asking for an increase in funding from the city,” Becci Shisler, Main Street program director, said. “I know there was some talk last year about maybe decreasing our funding [for 2014]. I would just ask you to please reconsider and keep us where we are at.”

The organization received $27,600 from the city for the 2013 fiscal year, which accounted for more than 60 percent of its $43,700 budget. Fiscal 2014 begins Monday, and Main Street is proposing a budget of $52,700 for the coming year, with a request for city funding to remain at $26,700 — or about 50 percent of the organization’s budget this time around.

Main Street is projecting membership dues to top $10,000 in FY 2014, up from $6,100 this year, Shisler said.

When asked about membership trends, Shisler said the organization’s numbers had climbed steadily since she became program director in December 2011.

“We have 122 members, and we’ve been averaging about three new members a month,” Shisler said. “When I started, the best number I could come up with was that we had 26 members. So we’ve grown quite a bit.”

Main Street’s largest fundraisers of the year are its annual wine tasting event and Mayhem on the Marais des Cygnes brew festival, Shisler said. Despite a strong storm that created its own mayhem at the brew festival earlier this month, Shisler said the association would still “break even” on the event.

The group is projecting its fundraising efforts would be about $10,000 for 2014, unchanged from this year, according to its budget proposal.

Previously housed in the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce’s office at 109 E. Second St., the Main Street group moved in early May to 112 W. Second St. City commissioners asked Shisler a few questions about the cost of the move, noting that the organization’s rent more than doubled from $1,500 in 2013 to $3,900 for 2014.

Main Street was paying the Chamber $125 per month for rent, which included utilities and Internet access, Shisler said.

“That agreement was going to change,” Shisler said. “We were supposed to start paying $175 in rent [each month], plus 25 percent of the utilities and Internet. When you consider those cost increases, we calculated that we are only going to be paying about $80 more a month [in the new space].”

Some of the trade-offs for the additional monthly cost, Shisler said in a recent interview, are that the organization has more room and the separate location helps distinguish Main Street from the Chamber.

Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, said he realized Main Street’s Incentives Without Walls loan program was an important part of the organization, but he didn’t see a line item for that fund in the budget.

Shisler explained those funds are not part of the group’s annual operating budget because they are provided through the Kansas Department of Commerce.

“We have $16,000 we can touch right now [in IWW funds] and another $14,000 tied up that we can’t touch at the moment,” Shisler said. “Even though we are not under the Department of Commerce, the funds still are.”

The IWW zero-interest loans program, administered through Main Street, has helped several downtown Ottawa businesses remain viable and grow, Shisler said in previous interviews. Sears, Royal Cleaners, Keim Bakery and Prestige Real Estate are a few of the Ottawa businesses that have taken advantage of the loan program in the past, Main Street representatives have said.

Ottawa businesses Bella Cucina restaurant, 129 S. Main St., and Prairie Rose Collectibles, 202 S. Main St., currently are enrolled in the IWW program, Shisler told commissioners.

Sara Caylor, Ottawa mayor, asked Shisler why the organization’s downtown mural project at Edward E. Haley Community Park, 320 S. Main St., Ottawa, was not listed in the budget.

The $14,000 mural project is being paid for by private donations and is not part of the group’s operating budget, Shisler said.

Scott Braden, an Ottawa artist, was selected to paint the mural. Shisler told commissioners the organization still needed to raise about $6,000 to complete the mural, which depicts some of the community’s historic businesses, buildings and places.

“I’m confident we’ll meet that goal,” Shisler said.

Main Street is involved in a host of activities throughout the year, Shisler told commissioners, from sponsoring business education workshops and promoting Ottawa businesses to sponsoring the community’s Christmas parade and numerous other activities.

“Our volunteers logged over 4,000 hours last year,” Shisler said.

The group is perhaps best known for its downtown beautification project, including tending to the flowers and landscaping on every corner of downtown Main Street.

“Our volunteers spent $11,634 out-of-pocket [last year] on the downtown [beautification],” Shisler said.

The Main Street program director said several businesses have provided financial assistance to the association’s projects, noting Ottawa’s Advantage Ford dealership provided the funds for the organization to put on last year’s Christmas parade.

Commissioners took the association’s budget request under advisement but did not take action Monday.

While the Main Street organization continues to grow, it is not financially self-sufficient at this juncture, Shisler said.

“We are making progress,” Shisler said. “We appreciate every penny you give us.”

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