The first year was all about building a stable foundation for the organization created to boost downtown Tracy in the wake of the ineffective Downtown Tracy Business Improvement Association. With a new board elected and its manager returning for a second go-around, its top members say momentum is building.
“I think we’ve got a lot accomplished in the first year. A lot of it was getting things situated, getting the committees up and running … a lot of getting the ball rolling,” said Dino Margaros, recently elected as the association board’s president.
Having taken those first steps, Margaros said, the TCCA is in position to tackle its most important task: bringing in the businesses.
“Our utmost priority is going to be quality business attraction,” Margaros said. “We are making a big push for this holiday season to attract businesses to fill some of the vacancies in downtown.”
That push includes “outside-the-box” approaches, he said, and ideas are being kicked around to court seasonal holiday stores and allow nonprofits to use storefronts for charity drives, among others.
“Special emphasis will be directed to the local businesses in the Tracy area that may not have a physical presence within the city limits — i.e., our local wineries, some local bakers, other manufacturers and distributors of food products, etc.,” he said.
Jan Couturier, the district’s manager and lone paid employee ($42,000 salary for 2011-12), agreed and said raising downtown’s profile is another big goal for 2011.
“Our biggest focus will be both marketing our downtown … as well as looking to revitalize and try to bring in complementary business,” she said.
Margaros said the end goal is to build a bustling downtown that reflects Tracy, not some other city, attractive though it may be.
“We need to define the downtown character. We need to define that hometown feel. We need to define our downtown as our downtown,” he said. “We don’t need a replica, we don’t want a copy.”
A list of success
In addition to voting in a permanent board, TCCA cleared basic hurdles like building a website and choosing a logo and marketing slogan.
The year-end report also touts bigger accomplishments, including hosting two profitable wine strolls; instituting a Wednesday farmers market; renovating some landscape plots; taking charge of downtown parking lot maintenance; collaborating with the city and Chamber of Commerce on the summer block party series; and finishing the year with more than $87,000 in the bank.
I raised an eyebrow at the money left over from last year.
That cash comes from profits from events like the wine strolls, a special tax paid by property owners and taxpayer money. (City land, and therefore public money, is a significant portion of the district, which was drawn to include the Grand Theatre and Tracy Transit Station while excluding the Tracy Inn, which happens to be owned by Margaros’ family. The family also owns property on the 700 block of Central Avenue, so Margaros is eligible to sit on the board.)
I wondered, shouldn’t that money be put back into the district?
Margaros assured me that it will be and insisted that saving money for big-ticket items is fiscal prudence.
“We want to use it in a smart manner,” he said. “We don’t want to spend money just for the sake of spending it. We want to target it where we think it has the biggest impact.”
That includes saving for large projects, such as a new surface for the south-of-10th Street parking lot and decorating downtown for the holidays.
He also stressed that public safety is part of the association’s mandate.
“If people aren’t safe, perceived or otherwise, nothing else we do can overcome that impression,” he said, adding that the TCCA is working closely with the city and police department to make downtown “as safe as it can be.”
Just getting started
But the road to the unique downtown Margaros and others envision wasn’t always smooth in year one.
The 2010-11 report points to low attendance and merchant participation in the first few months.
According to Margaros, improving that over the course of the year, and in the future, is critical to whether the TCCA flies or flops.
“Participation is key,” he said. “It takes a small army to accomplish a lot of these events and goals.”
Patti Blahnick, who owns the classy 2nd Ave consignment store at 61 W. 10th St., agreed.
“We need more merchant participation. There is hope for a robust downtown,” she said.
But she figures the TCCA has done a good job with the resources it has, saying events like the spring and fall wine strolls were hugely positive.
“There’s a lot of action down here now,” she said. “Slowly, we’re getting more and more people downtown.”
That, ultimately, is the lynchpin to the area’s success.
“Anytime there’s more people in downtown, I think it’s a good thing,” said Harish Patel, owner of Barista’s coffee shop.
He said that the TCCA has had a positive effect so far, but that it needs to focus on drawing a continual stream of people downtown, not just for one-time events.
“Those are one-day sales,” Patel said, referring to farmers market and wine stroll traffic. “I have to have return business daily.”
The same is true for places like DeVinci’s, Gerard’s and other downtown eateries, Patel said.
“We’re all in the same boat.”
Converting folks into repeat visitors means having more businesses that entice people to the heart of the city.
On that front, some folks downtown have chafed at the pace of progress, saying that, so far, there’s been little bang for their tax bucks and that more needs to be done to encourage the right type of business to set up shop on Central Avenue and 10th Street.
But Mayor Brent Ives, who backs the TCCA, contends it’s “unfair” to fully judge the efficacy of the association just yet.
“I think it’s evolving,” he said, adding that the volunteers on the board have the heart, vision and dedication to make downtown more successful.
Downtown hasn’t lived up to its full potential, Ives admitted. But the potential is there, and Ives thinks the TCCA is positioned to seize it.
It just might take a while to get a firm grasp.
“The challenge,” he said, “is not to give up.”
• Share your thoughts with editor Jon Mendelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.