Arcata Main Street Rises From The Ruins

Grenway scopes Main Street's mission. Photos by KLH | Union

Grenway scopes Main Street's mission. Photos by KLH | Union


Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

HOTEL ARCATA – Arcata Main Street’s (AMS) three-person Board of Directors was absent from a pivotal scoping meeting with downtown businesses last week in the Hotel Arcata conference room, due to personal matters, and maybe that was just as well.

Hosted by representatives of baggage-free Greenway Partners professional planners, about two dozen people turned out on a Monday night during Christmas season to spend two hours talking about possibilities rather than problems and personalities.

AMS’s long slide into irrelevance and non-participation by the businesses it is supposed to be nurturing turned into a crisis with last June’s Oyster Festival, when a much-despised fence was set up around the Plaza and admission charged. That, coupled with AMS’s chronic lack of communication, led to massive resentment and ultimately, the ouster of former Executive Director Jennifer Koopman.

Now, with fresh and clear-eyed – albeit temporary – leadership, the cooperation of downtowners and a table full of sushi from adjacent Café Tomo, AMS was able to crowdsource a book of dreams it will use to inform an action plan to guide the organization back to relevance. Terms such as “restoring our vision” and “clean slate” defined the premise.

The healthy turnout followed a charm offensive by Greenway project manager Debi Farber Bush. She personally invited numerous downtown businessfolk, some of whom hadn’t seen anyone from the downtown business organization in their stores in two years.

After explaining AMS’s ostensible mission and reviewing past and present programs that it oversees, the Greenway team assigned attendees to the usual small group breakouts to air ideas.

Restoring AMS’s viability hinges, at least on paper, on implementing the National Trust of Historic Preservation’s four-point approach for sustainable community revitalization, which include organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring.  Those points provided the framework for the small group discussions.

Asked whether ideas must be limited to those talking points or even if Main Street’s continued existence itself was a pre-ordained assumption, Greenway’s Kirk Cohune said everything was on the table. “The answers are going to come from the people in this room,” he said.

Another request to rehash the last six months of well-documented drama and divisiveness was turned aside on grounds that the night’s mission was to reset the table, not dwell on dirty dishes.

So, facilitated by Cohune and Fawn Scheer with assistance by Farber Bush, Erin Derden-Litle and Christopher Weinstein, attendees fiddled with little toys like tiny race cars, tops and even Gumby dolls placed on their breakout tables as they conjured forward-thinking ideas.

Those ideas were many, including business promotion concepts such as workshops, coupon books, special shopping events, increased collaboration among businesses and with Humboldt State, establishment of a public restroom, landscaping, a garden club,

downtown maps, more and better vehicle and bike parking, more public art, improved downtown cleanup, “behavioral rewards” and many more.

But the overriding theme was communication, the lack of which has plagued AMS.

That seems to be  changing, as no fewer than two press releases and a letter of appreciation to participants were issued after the event.

Next up in the Greenway/AMS revival campaign are establishment of a 12-person community advisory board to help guide the organization’s board, recruitment of new boardmembers and board training, enhancement of member benefits and participation and a revised set of projects and priorities.

Individuals and businesses wishing to participate in AMS or otherwise communicate may contact it at (707) 822-4500 or Greenway Partners at (707) 822-0597.

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