The Downtown Monroe Association Board of Directors has hired on a part-time executive director to bring the nonprofit closer to achieving state-accredited status.
Joie Worthen, whose first day was March 13, said much of her immediate work will be to flesh out job duties with the board. She will be the first paid, dedicated staff to head the growing, volunteer-run organization.
“We are very fortunate in getting Joie because she’s got all the pieces,” said DMA board member Dianne Forth. “She lives in Monroe, she loves Monroe.”
Forth said the DMA was able to create the position through funds from the city of Monroe, saying, “it was huge.” The Monroe City Council approved a 2017 budget allocation of $25,000 during its Feb. 21 meeting. The vote also authorized Mayor Geoffrey Thomas to sign a professional services agreement with the nonprofit, effective March 1 to Dec. 31.
Worthen will oversee community relations, administrative duties, management, event planning and the building of partnerships. All assignments pertain to two blocks in any direction from the intersection of Main and Lewis streets — the currently defined downtown boundaries.
Councilmember Patsy Cudaback said some of the tasks included in the executive director’s job description seem vague. She said she would like to see refined measures of future success. Forth said the DMA will provide updates to the council every two months.
Interim City Administrator David Moseley said the details Cudaback wants will come as the position matures. He said the city has completed other projects aimed at revitalization in recent years, such as sidewalk widening.
City staff believe the downtown core could be a “stronger economic engine than it is today,” Moseley said. “...This (the DMA contract) is just another part of the kind of investment the city is making to help revitalize and bolster the economic viability of the downtown Monroe area.”
The funding amount was initially recommended in the Downtown Monroe Revitalization Strategy study released in 2016. The Seattle-based BDS Planning and Urban Design company conducted research on what approaches DMA could take to beautify and unify the downtown Monroe corridor.
“Downtown Monroe is perhaps the community’s most unique and charming feature,” according to the study. “Downtown Monroe is one of the community’s greatest assets, and has huge potential for economic growth as a visitor district that is attractive to locals and visitors alike.”
The DMA is young, but moving forward fast, Forth said. The group formed in August 2015. She said board member Teresa Willard was a member of the nonprofit’s predecessor, the now disbanded Downtown Revitalization and Enhancement Association of Monroe, or D.R.E.A.M. She has brought invaluable experience to the table, Forth said.
There are currently 11 board members, seven of whom are local business owners, Forth said. Each helps head projects and planning. Many startup costs have come out of pocket and from supplemental fundraisers, such as the Downtown Hoedown, Plush Pippin pie sale and a rummage sale, she said.
Forth said it is important to have a paid position to keep things on track in any long-term effort, as “volunteers can get burnt out.”
Worthen, who has experience in both the public and private sectors, said she joined DMA as a volunteer after the group was established. She said she quickly decided to stay, but one characteristic stood out in particular.
“I think mainly their philosophy, it’s just a completely positive environment, and that they are also inclusive — everyone has a voice, which is vitally important...,” Worthen said. “You cannot make people happy, but everyone can come to consensus of what is best.”
The BDS study suggests the DMA strive for financial independence from the city by 2020, but should rely on the partnership during the first few years. A number of other avenues will help reach self sufficiency, including grants, individual donations, Monroe’s lodging tax revenue, support from business and community partners and state tax credit programs.
Willard said becoming a designated Washington Main Street Program Community will help secure many of those resources, and is compulsory in some cases.
Right now, Monroe is one of 13 communities at the affiliate level of Washington’s Main Street Program, run by the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. The state’s program — one of many members of the National Main Street Center Inc. network — was established in 1984. It offers connections to state funding, networking and revitalization aid, targeting commercial downtown districts.
“A healthy and vibrant downtown is an indication of a vibrant and healthy community in general,” Willard said.
Breanne Durham, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street coordinator, said there are 34 designated Main Street Program Communities in Washington, and many receive financial assistance from their city governments. Some of the closest programs to Monroe are Issaquah, Mt. Vernon and Bellingham, she said.
Durham attended one of DMA’s monthly public meetings Monday, March 13, at Monroe’s Wellbeing Center for Health. Much of the discussion revolved around how to move beyond affiliation, and how to take advantage of the organization’s current status.
For Monroe to qualify as a full-fledged program, Worthen’s position will have to evolve into full time work, Durham said. The Main Street Program application also requires downtown associations to meet other criteria, such as developing a comprehensive plan in alignment with the Main Street Four-Point Approach, and have a stable budget, she said.
Willard said Worthen’s position would ideally become full time within the next few years.
“That doesn’t prevent us from doing everything we can to be the best Main Street city we can be in between now and then,” she said.