This summer's "Spheres" is just one event Downtown Racine Corp organizes throughout the year.
By Bill Griffiths
In my travels, I’ve driven through a lot of dead downtowns. These are towns that have been decimated by the presence of national retailers that have a tough time remaining nameless.
Racine’s downtown is family-friendly and aspiring, and anything but dead. That is no accident. There are a lot of people working hard to keep our downtown viable.
Last year, someone outside the country wanted to send me a gift, but wasn’t familiar with Racine. They contacted the Downtown Racine Corporation (DRC) and arranged to send me some Downtown Gift Certificates. These were indeed a welcome gift and helped introduce me to several stores downtown.
At the same time, I could not help but notice that many of the activities downtown (First Fridays, Public Art, Summer Nights on the Square, holiday parades, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Party on the Pavement, etc.) are all partnerships between DRC, the downtown merchants and hundreds of volunteers.
It’s a common mistake to think the DRC is busy from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For a small organization, the DRC is a beehive of planning, meetings, fundraising and recruiting, all year long…and all focused on promoting the image of Racine and drawing more people downtown to visit and shop.
The two full-time people at the DRC are its Executive Director, Devin Sutherland, and Director of Marketing, Jean Garbo, who work along with several part-time people and volunteers.
The DRC works proactively promoting downtown to retain existing businesses as well as recruiting new businesses. In doing this, the DRC:
· Writes grants and creates fundraising activities to help underwrite its activities and programs,
· Manages the Business Improvement District (that funds ‘clean and safe’ initiatives, the Public Service Ambassador program, downtown landscaping and seasonal decorations),
· Continually evaluates the effectiveness of events they have managed and performs (or commissions) ongoing research to identify new ideas to further enhance the quality of life in Racine, and
· Works with organizations like Leadership Racine to provide downtown businesses and their employees with new or refreshed skills and approaches to being more successful.
Mr. Sutherland says, “We did a retail/entertainment study to identify the types of businesses that we need to add. Hardware stores certainly made it to that list. And a grocery store is certainly near the top of the list. That need becomes greater as more and more people occupy the new apartments and condos downtown. Recently, we’ve had a prospect, who seems very eager to open a grocery store at the southeast corner of Main and State, and we are involved in ongoing negotiations.”
The DRC is also studying, as an initiative for 2009, ways to improve the signage from the Interstate to downtown. Many a traveler has mistaken several parts of Racine for downtown and never found their way to downtown.
According to Mr. Sutherland, “Racine has a lot of great qualities that people living elsewhere just aren’t aware of. An image campaign is something we feel strongly about, and is also on the minds of the Racine County Economic Development Corp. and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s not moving as quickly as we’d like, but it’s certainly on everyone’s’ radar.”
He continues, “Local shoppers have also told us they want more consistent hours and days of operation from merchants, and we’re developing a plan to address that.”
This year, on the first three Saturdays of December, the DRC is introducing ‘Santa Saturdays’. You’ll no doubt be reading more about those.
If you haven’t been downtown lately, come downtown and see that people are putting a lot of thought and effort forward to make it a place to take pride in. And, to make it a lovely place to shop, eat, listen to music or just get together.
To learn more, take a look at the DRC website at www.racinedowntown.com . If you want to order some of those Downtown Gift Certificates, you can call (262) 634-6002.