Downtown group looks to revitalize area
Courthouse coming spurs action
Representatives from City Hall and the Porterville Chamber of Commerce have been meeting with downtown property owners for the past few months, exploring a variety of initiatives to help revitalize the heart of the city.
Improving the downtown streetscape, showcasing displays in vacant buildings and installing planters are just some of the enhancements being considered by what is officially known as the Downtown Focus Group to spruce up the area in anticipation of the new courthouse.
“A lot of it comes with looking at revitalization for downtown and looking at where we’re going with the courthouse,” said chamber president and CEO Donnette Carter about the effort. “It’s like putting our welcome mat out; like putting our best foot forward.”
The Downtown Focus Group was established as part of the city’s economic development strategy announced last year. The plan identifies various focus areas, one of them being downtown. Carter said the chamber is heading up the group and that the chamber’s main role is to “facilitate the conversation” between stakeholders.
“We have to put our welcome mat out,” Carter said, adding that 300 to 400 people are expected to come to the downtown area on a daily basis with the opening of the new South County Justice Center.
How the potential improvements will be financed is yet to be determined.
“We are convening a meeting in February. We will be inviting all downtown business owners and property owners to talk about how we will pay for all the improvements,” Carter said. “We are just trying to spruce downtown up and take it to the next level. We understand money is tight for everybody, the city included, and we are looking at all different options to leverage resources.”
Among those options, is the establishment of a business improvement district.
The concept is not foreign to downtown merchants.
In 1987, the city established the Business Improvement Area — from Morton Avenue to Olive Avenue and from Second Street to D Street. Businesses lying within the area paid for a fee equal to the amount paid for their business license. The city collected the fee to fund general promotion of business activities in the area, the promotion of public events, and the decoration of any public place in the area. The funds were administered by the Downtown Porterville Association, Inc., which also served as the Business Improvement Area’s advisory board.
The association disbanded in 2006 after the Porterville City Council opted to disestablish the Business Improvement Area because some downtown business owners felt it didn’t benefit them, Carter said.
Country Pleasures on Main Street was part of the Business Improvement Area when it was in place. Owner Pam Hughes said she recognizes something needs to get done.
“I’d be all for doing something... downtown getting organized and having functions and stuff, but as far as bringing the Business Improvement Area back, I don’t think I would be for that,” Hughes said. “It would have to be a whole different structure because in the past it didn’t go well. I’m all for coming up with something different.”
Carter stressed that downtown business and property owners will have the final say as to how to go about making such improvements. The meeting, she said, is too discuss what the existing resources are, what resources are needed and how to access those resources.
Milt Stowe, former Porterville Parks and Leisure Services director and the focus group’s chairman, said that if downtown business and property owners choose not to come onboard, the effort will likely come to a standstill.
“The city just doesn’t have the money for it. If we go after grants, they’re going to very difficult to obtain at this time,” he said. “If business owners don’t want to [come onboard], I don’t think the effort won’t go anywhere and it will just die for lack of interest.”
Contact Denise Madrid at 784-5000, Ext. 1047. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseMadrid_.