will consider Tuesday night whether to once again levy the annual assessments on downtown businesses that go into a fund to help make downtown improvements. This discussion takes place against the backdrop of larger questions of how Walnut Creek can bolster its economy as the region, the state, and nation try to dig themselves out of the Great Recession.
The downtown is, yes, an important part of the city's economic engine. So, how is the city going to increase the numbers of people who want to do business here, shop here, eat here, have fun here? How is the city going to make its downtown a place that people want to be?
The group charged with the task of devising these strategies is the Downtown Business Association. The association administers the funds that come from those assessments on salons, restaurants, and shops that lie within the Downtown Business Improvement District. In existence for five years, the district levies assessments of anywhere from $125 a year for a small second-floor business to $1,000 a year for a ground floor business of more than 10,000 square feet.
The association also receives money for downtown improvement projects from the Downtown Parking and Enhancement Fund, which consists of revenues generated from downtown parking meters. The fund has provided $650,000 to the business assocation for over three years.
With that money, the association has made some visual improvements to downtown--banners, energy-efficient lights on Locust Street trees. It has also instituted some programs that may be desirable or not, depending on your point of view, such as the valet parking program.
Finally, it has also helped sponsor some popular events, such as Walnut Creek on Ice, the Wine Walk in September to raise money for Walnut Creek schools, and the November 2009 Semi-Annual Sidewalk Sale that included 29 participating merchants.
Earlier this year, the business association spent around $7,000 to hire a so-called "destination guru" to help come up with a brand and logo to promote Walnut Creek. At a February 10 meeting with the Downtown Business Association, Roger Brooks of Destination Development International made some interesting comments and suggestions about how he sees Walnut Creek's future.
He came up with the idea that Mt. Diablo Boulevard is our town's "Mason-Dixon Line." He also threw out the suggestion that we call the area north of this Mason-Dixon Line our "International District" because of all the "ethnic" restaurants operating there.
OK, the business association says Brooks' firm has made a total of 23 recommendations for improving downtown, which range from improving signage in private parking lots to large capital projects, such as building gateways and plazas. A written report is due in several weeks. Let's hope that some of those recommendations are not as interesting as the "Mason-Dixon," "International District" ideas.