After a couple of weeks of discussion on Freeport Downtown Development Foundation (FDDF) funding, I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain here.
FDDF has a 20 member board of directors made up of community leaders, business owners and property owners. There are four main committees: design, organization, promotions, and economic vitality. Each is focused on those areas in a tactical way. Organization is led by Josh Elliott of Elliott Graphix and Michele Massoth of the Journal-Standard, design is led by Steve Pizzolato of Frank Jewelers, promotions is led by Sarah Thompson of Hilldale and Brooke Wagner of Deininger Floral, and economic vitality has a vacant leadership role.
We have four sub-committees for our fundraisers: Cruise Night, Music on Chicago, Pretzel City Brewfest, and Pretzel City Farmers Market. Those are all led by various community leaders and each have a committee of about 6-10 people.
In 2016, we became a member of the National Main Street with the hope to make downtown Freeport an affiliated, then accredited, Main Street community. This would be huge for the whole city. We just learned we’ve moved up to affiliated and have one more step to go.
For the past several years, a portion of our funding came from the downtown’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district. It was $25,000 for a number of years but changed to $50,000 after the recession. At the most recent City Council meeting there was discussion about changing that funding to $40,000 in 2017, then $20,000 in 2018, and zero beyond that. This is not a cause for alarm. There are three reasons we are okay with not getting a piece of the TIF pie.
The downtown business owners, property owners, and community drive what we focus on. The TIF funding came with other goals from city administration and council. So, instead of working on a few things and doing them really well, we were trying to do a lot of things and were spread really thin. Our board has a good mixture of city leaders and business owners so we’re confident everyone is represented.
Another reason is that the grass roots committee, Freeport City Centre, has some really good ideas to help property owners get loans to add residential lofts downtown and upgrade the streetscape with the use of TIF funds (under the direction of the Northwest Illinois Development Alliance). We support this effort and understand their need for the funds to get these projects off the ground. If they are successful, everyone benefits.
The third reason is a big factor. Due to our growth, we feel we can wean off of the TIF and make room for other plans. Our growth hasn’t just been in revenue. In 2012 there were 193 businesses downtown, now there are 210. Our community engagement has gone from just over 200 volunteers to just under 600. Our online reach went from 400 to over 4,000 and we expect all that growth will continue.
So what are our plans to make up the loss from the TIF? We are planning more events, adding a citywide 50/50, writing three times as many grants, adding more opportunities to buy local apparel, and reaching out to the private sector.
We are a bottom up organization and I am a servant leader. Our direction comes from the board of directors, business owners and community. We carry out their ideas and support their efforts. I believe when you combine community engagement, positivity and marketing, you can save any downtown.