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January 2, 2013

DDA to take over marketing, event planning in Village

Village Association to continue, but in different capacity

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

GROSSE POINTE CITY — After roughly 40 years of planning and organizing special events and promoting the City’s Village shopping district, the Grosse Pointe Village Association is hoping to scale back its efforts and hand control of much of those responsibilities to the City’s Downtown Development Authority.

Village Association President Mike Kramer said the DDA, which was established in 2008, would be taking on marketing of the district and planning of events in 2013.

Kramer said the Village Association isn’t disbanding, but it is preparing to assume a different position, serving as a communications link between the businesses and the DDA.

“We’re changing our role,” he said.

Kramer said he believes the DDA “will bring more professionalism (and) more continuity to marketing.” In recent years, it’s become more difficult for the Village Association Board to fill its ranks and find volunteers.

“There’s fewer and fewer independent merchants, and it’s getting harder and harder to get enough people on the board,” Kramer explained.

At a DDA board meeting Dec. 3 in City Council chambers, the board discussed hiring someone to run and market special events.

City Manager Pete Dame said they need to hire someone as soon as possible to oversee upcoming events, such as VillageFest and Music on the Plaza. They need someone who can handle public relations, as well as produce these events and secure sponsors, he said.

And with the free outdoor jazz concert series MOTP starting in June, “We would need to find someone fast,” Dame said.

In addition, they need someone to book the acts and set up sound stages, although these aspects of MOTP could be contracted out, Dame said.

He said city staff and the parks and recreation director could handle public relations for Halloween festivities in the Village and the annual Christmas tree lighting, and longtime Village Association board member Ellen Durand has agreed to continue running the Paint the Window contest for kids, which typically takes place in May.

Ideally, Dame said, they would hire one person for public relations, booking and event coordination of Village events, but he acknowledged that they might not be able to find an individual capable of doing all of that. He said the DDA budget includes “sufficient funds to hire” needed personnel and still has an additional cushion for other expenses. The revised budget covers February-June 2013, Dame said. The proposed DDA marketing program budget for 2012-2038 is now $500,000, up from the $300,000 initially suggested, and the budget for that same period sets aside another $500,000 for “professional, technical and administrative assistance.”

“This does not enhance what the Village Association is currently doing. … Ultimately, (doing even more than what the Village Association is able to do now) would be our goal,” Dame said.

There’s about $20,000-$25,000 in the current budget for professional marketing, but Dame said, in the future, they hope to hire a professional consultant to come up with a master marketing plan, at a cost of roughly $20,000-$40,000. He said he hoped, by the time the budget season rolled around, they’d be able to discuss this in greater detail.

“This is a work in progress,” said Mayor Dale Scrace, who’s also on the DDA board. “We need to take this step, knowing that there’s going to be some tweaking (along the way).”

While the Village Association has long been an independent volunteer organization, the DDA — which was created by the City Council — essentially falls under the City’s authority, and its board is appointed by City leaders. The marketing consultant is an employee of the DDA but would report to the city manager, Dame said. Dame is also the DDA director.

DDA board member James Bellanca Jr. asked that the DDA be involved in reviewing finalists for the marketing position.

“It’s our first hire,” he said. “It’s a key position. And I think we would like to be involved in making that decision.”

DDA board member Wendy Richards concurred with Bellanca, saying they wanted to have input to continue their vision for the Village. She said they weren’t seeking authority over day-to-day decisions.

“This is the face of the Village,” Richards said of the marketing person. “This is our first choice out of the gate.”

Dame said he could send the board a list of people under consideration but suggested that this not establish a precedent, as he didn’t want to see the DDA members “bog yourselves down in details.”

City Council member Christopher Walsh, a member of the DDA board, agreed with Dame.

“A director hires people, and you move on,” Walsh said.

Despite some differences of opinion on the details, many Village leaders seem to feel that allowing the DDA to shoulder additional responsibilities is a positive step. As Kramer noted, when the Village Association started about 40 years ago, there was no Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce or DDA.

Former Village Association executive director and longtime board member Beverly Leinweber called it “a good move.”

“Everything I ran (for the Village) was on a shoe string,” she said. “(With) the DDA, it will be good to have a body that can generate income to keep events going.”

Besides continuing popular events, Leinweber said the DDA might be able to “maybe make better events,” as well.

“We want to make those (Village) events good for the entire community,” said City resident Bill Huntington, a Village Association member who once owned the store Hickey’s/Walton-Pierce. “It is our community, and we’re all in the same boat, and we all want to paddle in the same direction.”

City officials are moving forward with the proposed changes. During a Dec. 10 City Council meeting, City Clerk Julie Arthurs confirmed that the council voted unanimously in favor of the consent agenda, which included scheduling a public hearing on the DDA plan amendment for 7 p.m. Jan. 28 in council chambers. Anyone interested in these proceedings is welcome to attend. For a copy of the full proposal or for more information about the meeting, visit the City’s website at www.grossepointecity.org and click on the Economic Development tab.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.