Study fund request raises tempers

Council directs staff to make recommendation at next meeting

The business committee’s request for city help to pay for a downtown revitalization study raised tempers at Tuesday’s Stillwater City Council meeting and resulted in city staff directed to bring a recommendation on funding the downtown study at the next council meeting.

Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Todd Streeter and downtown business representatives spoke to the council about the Downtown Revitalization Committee’s request for city money for the downtown studies. Chamber and DRC officials say the estimated $60,000 study would be a market check-up and include a survey of business owners, market analysis and business mix recommendation.

Streeter said there’s a misperception that the DRC was put together by the chamber. He added that the group was a result of Community Symposium series held more than a year ago to determine how best to serve the community as construction starts on both the St. Croix Crossing bridge and Brown’s Creek State Trail.

“People ask me why the chamber is doing this. Truthfully, it’s because no one else has been doing it. So we took on the task 18 months ago. And this is the role the Chamber of Commerce plays to serve as an advocate and partner in the interest of our chamber members and the areas we serve. Knowing past history, we also hope to serve as a broker between parties to create partnerships and accomplish the desired objectives as well,” he said.

Streeter then ceded the floor to three business community representatives including Kevin LaCasse and Larry Cramer of Rafters.

LaCasse and Cramer both believe the study could help the future success of downtown and spoke of issues landlords and business owners face making ends meet in the downtown area.

Both men said they believe the study could help collect information to establish the correct mix of downtown businesses to draw more visitors to the area.

“There’s a misperception that everything is fine when you go downtown on the weekends and see the sidewalks filled with people,” LaCasse said. “But if the registers aren’t ringing and the landlords are struggling with the mortgage, the downtown businesses aren’t going to survive and we’re going to lose our main street.”

“Our goal with this study is to try and figure out a way to make it so everyone is healthy,” Cramer added. “The government, the building and business owners need to work together. And, don’t take offense, but this is not about you guys extracting tax dollars to make your audit look good. I have a separate negative cash flow on the retail side. Rafters provides many jobs and the goose needs to be nourished to lay the golden eggs. This study is important because it’s important for the city.”

Cramer added that he’s lost money during his 10 years as a landlord and a business owner. And year to date, he’s lost more than $100,000 in cash flow and is concerned about managing to keep afloat constantly.

“My issue with this (study) is that there’s no enforcement mechanism. We as the city aren’t the landlords of downtown, we don’t control space and businesses that enter our area. Personally I don’t believe we have a purview in that. It’s not that I don’t understand and sympathize with what you’re going through but there’s no mechanism to enforce this,” said Councilman Tom Weidner. “I understand the use of the study for business owners. It’s not our role to fund the study where there is interest from business and building owners. Our role as a city is to do our best to create infrastructure and use our staff and take staff directed recommendations about what to do to improve the city.”

Cramer responded that he’s worked closely with what he believed was a government entity concerned with economic development when he was doing business in New Richmond, Wis., and another city. He said they served as a central place for people to explain what’s available and get businesses in to the city.

This idea peaked the interest of Councilman Ted Kozlowski who said that creating an economic development commission made up of those that have been involved in the downtown revitalization process that involved city staff as well would allow them to have some authority so that decisions could be made by the group that could be funded.
The decision regarding the funding for the survey is expected to be made at the July 30 council meeting.

Contact Avery Cropp at [email protected]