Develop North Adams Reviews Success, Looks to FutureBy Tammy Daniels
10:09PM / Monday, October 17, 2011
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Develop North Adams is planning for a more sustainable future for itself and the city.
Some of the projects DNA has supported.
The organization, established in April 2010, already has some victories under its belt in pushing its mission of marketing, beautifying and connecting the community. But now the loose group of volunteers is considering a more permanent structure.
"Our board has been discussing exploring a membership-based model for the expansion of DNA, a chamber of commerce-based model, which won't be a massive change from what we already do," President Brian Miksic told the more than three dozen members and guests at the group's first annual meeting on Monday night. "But it'll help us if we have a membership base instead of just soliciting funds on a project-by-project basis."
Miksic said the membership structure would also aid in making the group more sustainable in hiring staff and solidifying partnerships "with existing groups that do the same things that we do on a regional and statewide level."
Vice President Michael Boland said, "it doesn't have to be this big pie in the sky, change the world" momentum for DNA to have a positive effect but small steps and "getting stuff done."
The group is built on the old Downtown Development Inc. base but has a broader outlook by incorporating businesses outside the downtown, said Boland, with a narrower mission focus.
A priority is the ability to continue to raise money to fund the ongoing projects that have looked simple but cost a lot. Over the last 14-15 months, the organization has raised some $49,870, almost all from local businesses and individuals, and spent nearly $35,000 to date, with more already allocated.
Among the most prominent projects sponsored by the organization are the pocket parks, benches and colorful crosswalks (in collaboration with Art About Town) downtown. While some have pooh-poohed the cosmetic alterations, Miksic said those seemingly small changes are working.
Marketing and promotion, beautification and development, business retention and recruitment
Pocket parks, benches, cleanups, crosswalks with Art About Town
Aiding new & expanding business with landlords, planning and permitting
"We're on Main Street every day and we see these things changing," said Miksic, whose wife, Suzy Helme, owns Shima, an infant and toddler shop. "Parks and benches, they're silly if anybody wants to make fun of it, but they have a serious effect as a welcoming piece to the community."
That's particularly notable after hearing that some local venues are having a hard time recruiting for jobs because of the city's looks. "Whether you agree with that or you don't agree with that people are having trouble recruiting for high-paying jobs — college jobs, hospital jobs, museum jobs," said Miksic. "That's a problem but it's problem that can be addressed."
DNA has also helped prime the economic pump by matching funds with merchants to support the Hometown Holidays marketing campaign, buying a full-page ad in the Berkshire Visitors Bureau publication, building a website and map listing restaurants and shops and marketing during the Solid Sound Festival, promoting new events like Motorama and the Mexican Fiesta. It's also looking at how to help the city fund a new tourism-based website.
The next step is getting a merchants group up and running, a process that began with a preliminary meeting earlier this month.
"The only way that this is going to work is if the merchants come together and lead themselves, not have somebody else telling them what to do," said Miksic.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer asked if the old signs from DDI were still around to help steer drivers downtown. Mayor Richard Alcombright said there were signs that came with the streetscape project that had not been installed yet because of the hurricane in August. He said he has also spoken with Neil Ellis, owner the former Kmart building, on signs to direct shoppers to the plaza and the movie theaters, and expected to bring DNA into the conversations.
More difficult may the attempt to get the larger chain stores involved. Miksic and Boland said they had reached out to local managers but the corporate structure of the chains was an obstacle. However, they had received good initial feedback and would continue the contact.
"I'm proud of what we've accomplished in two years time," said Miksic, noting that it was being done on everyone's free time. "We can see the difference in the cash register ... we can see the difference as our business grows."