The Monroe City Council was given an overview of Monroe’s new Downtown Revitalization Strategy last week, presented by BDS Planning & Urban Design principal Brian Scott with support from the Downtown Monroe Association (DMA).
BDS Planning and Urban Design was hired this April to craft a revitalization strategy for Monroe’s historic downtown core, after the Monroe City Council designated $25,000 in funding to help support Monroe’s newly formed DMA. Founded in August 2015 to focus on downtown revitalization, the DMA aided Scott throughout the process, helping to inform his work. DMA board president Dianne Forth and secretary Erin Angus-Snapka were in attendance during the presentation to the Monroe City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
Scott offered the council a glimpse into his background. He said he first became interested in downtown revitalization while living in Oregon during the 1970s.
“I got incensed with the berry fields out around the edges of the Portland area getting ground up for subdivisions and got this notion that if we could make cities better, maybe people wouldn’t be in such a hurry to grind up the countryside,” Scott said. “I’ve been working on that ever since.”
Scott has been working on downtown and commercial district revitalization projects for more than 35 years, including numerous communities in Washington and Oregon. He founded BDS in 2009. In addition to strategic plans, BDS does visions, urban design frameworks and consensus facilitation, including the creation of assessment districts to provide a sustainable funding mechanism for revitalization efforts.
Economic fundamentals, design and development principles and sustained marketing and promotions are the three primary facets of successful downtown revitalization, Scott said. Most importantly, he said, is that those three facets are bound together at the core by strong leadership and consistent management, to make things work over time.
Scott said everything starts with economic fundamentals. Revitalization efforts need to be heavily informed based on the underpinnings of the economics of the community, so decisions are made that fit that economic profile. Design and development principles should be developed with the inherent purpose of making downtown as pleasant as possible, he said, and marketing and promotions should be implemented to help with image crafting.
Scott outlined his work in Monroe, which has been ongoing since May. Since that time, his efforts have included formation of a steering committee, engagement with the Spanish-speaking community, dozens of interviews with key stakeholders, an online community survey to assess perceptions of downtown, analysis and dissemination of survey data, review of previous plans developed for downtown and a joint workshop with members of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and the DMA boards of directors.
“So we’ve done quite a lot of work and we’re right at the tail end of this process,” Scott said.
Scott identified four key strategy elements. The first involves a coordinated approach with respect to the roles and responsibilities of key entities that are important to downtown Monroe. One of the most important steps during the process, he said, was to bring together the chamber and DMA, to work on clearly identifying and defining each group’s role in relation to downtown revitalization.
The Monroe Chamber of Commerce and the DMA are two separate entities with distinct missions and objectives, and Scott stressed numerous times throughout the process that it’s crucial that those missions and objectives are clearly defined.
Since its formation last summer, the DMA has established a board of directors and has been taking steps to become part of the Washington State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation’s Main Street program. Its efforts are targeted toward Monroe’s immediate downtown core, with the goal of sustaining and enhancing the downtown experience. The DMA doesn’t promote specific businesses, but works to promote the downtown core as a whole.
Currently, the DMA is entirely volunteer-based.
The Monroe Chamber of Commerce takes a broader approach to economic development using a coordinated citywide strategy. The chamber doesn’t focus on a specific region, but instead considers its business members from all over Monroe. In addition to building community through events, the chamber provides networking opportunities to its members to spark mutually beneficial relationships between business owners.
A volunteer board of directors leads the chamber and has two paid staff — an executive director and an operations manager.
“It’s really critical that everybody’s working together on making downtown happen,” Scott said.
The second strategy element identified organizational imperatives for the DMA, including building staffing capacity through the hiring of an executive director, defining its organizational reach to be in alignment with the city of Monroe’s Comprehensive Plan, visible projects, leveraging its involvement in the Main Street program and developing a sustainable funding model. The other two strategy elements involve crafting a long-term marketing strategy and a defined four-year sustainable funding plan.
He complimented the DMA’s effort thus far, adding they will need to hire staff to continue.
“Their accomplishments in the last 15 months or so, since they formed as an all-volunteer group, are nothing short of astonishing. They have a three-page single-spaced list of all the things they’ve gotten done. It is very impressive,” Scott said. “They can’t sustain that as an all-volunteer organization, basically paying for it out of their own pockets.”
He suggested the city help the DMA with funding over a set length of time.
“My recommendation is that the city of Monroe dedicate some funding to the Downtown Monroe Association for the next three years to the scale of $25,000 a year,” Scott said.
The expectation being that the DMA would work in that three-year timeframe to develop a sustainable funding model, he said. The Monroe City Council could dictate certain deliverables, in order to ensure DMA efforts stay on track and in alignment with city goals for the downtown region. As a part of its marketing strategy, he recommended the DMA work to promote assets that set Monroe apart and make it unique, including the city’s Hispanic businesses.
“I think, frankly, it’s the most interesting thing you’ve got going in terms of the businesses that are downtown,” Scott said. “That should be celebrated by the DMA, by the chamber and by the city, because it’s a great asset.”
Additionally, he recommended the DMA work with Main Street businesses to encourage and promote aesthetic improvements like recent upgrades at the Main Street Café, which added flowerpots and outdoor seating over the summer. Another recommendation was that the DMA partner with Snohomish County Tourism to help develop the Sky to Sound Water Trail; a planned 84-mile water trail that stretches from the north and south forks of the Skykomish River to Everett.
“It’s from the Wild Sky Wilderness area to the Puget Sound and it directly interacts with 10 communities,” Scott said. “Monroe is envisioned as one of the places where you would get into the water and get out of the water.”
Scott told the council his final report will be submitted to the city within the next few weeks.
Forth thanked the city for its support and confirmed they have been working alongside the chamber to ensure cohesive efforts.
“We’ve been on the same page since day one,” the DMA president said. “We want the same things for downtown.”