October 30, 2008

Positively Racine: Downtown Racine Corp works daily to build Racine's businesses, pride

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.


  1. Does the DRC care to debate this in a public forum?

  2. why is there no grocery store in downtown racine? The addition of a grocery store would do much to attract me there on a regular basis.

  3. Does the DRC wish to debate this in public place?
    Love to heat the DRC enplane why they ran a beer garden when the majority of their membership did not want one?
    Lots of other questions too they should be answering

  4. Yes Colt, questions like, if they write grants and have fundraisers to underwrite activities, why do they always ask the businesses and retailers to pay to participate in events? And, why are they losing members that had been faithful to the DRC for many, many years?

  5. Once again does the DRC wish to debate this story in public?
    Of Course not! Too many questions would be asked of them that the DRC want to keep covered up. Like if the DRC is doing so much to bring more downtown why is a group of stores raising funds to pay for advertising of them selfs and downtown?
    If The DRC is working in the public trust on the Downtown Bid why are w not having more discloser on what the DRC does with the money that the DRC receives to manage it?
    Might we find out out that a great amount of the cash goes to just a few of the DRC friends?

  6. Are they seriously thinking about a grocery store on the premier piece of vacant land in downtown? (Which ius owned by the Johnson's BTW)
    If it doesn't have convenient parking forget about it. I doubt there will ever be enough downtown residents that will support it.

    I'd like to suggest it's the powers that be that are the problem with any strides being made downtown. It's reached current market maturity and has plateaued or perhaps declined.

    What is good for the goose isn't always good for the gander.