Thoughts on Sandy Keith’s Remarks

From left to right: Sandy Keith, Familiar Faces in the Crowd, Old Connections Renewed

First off, Sandy was a very entertaining speaker. It was extremely helpful having him put the vitality of urban centers in a historic perspective. Yeah, Carthage had some dark hours…but they rebuilt. Of course, New Orleans is facing some tough times…but with the spirit of jazz, fine dining and a few vampires, it will endure. Sure, the future of Austin, Minnesota seems bleak…but, well, I don’t know about downtown Austin. I guess the point is that cities and downtowns go through good times and bad times but they are the places that people congregate and that’s what is most important over the long term.

Second, I really appreciated Sandy’s comments about the Chamber and the EDA. The Chamber is about the entire city, the EDA is about the entire region, somebody’s got to focus on the downtown. That’s what Brett Reese, Jim Braucher and Bardwell Smith, along with a couple of handfuls of others, were thinking about when they started the NDDC five years ago. We’re forced to justify our existence in comparison to those other entities all the time, yet when Sandy responded, it sounded like “Isn’t it obvious?”, but in a nice way.

Finally, his comments about every downtown organization and downtown Business Improvement District or Special Services District being unique is the key. Each entity must be shaped by the needs of their city. Duluth spends half their budget (literally 50%) on “Clean and Safe”…trash pick-up, pressure washing the sidewalks, graffiti removal, additional police patrols, safety escorts and skyway patrols. Rochester spends half their budget (literally 50%) on “Organization, Administration, and Advocacy”…marketing, communications and political arm-twisting. The rest of Duluth’s money (in two broad categories) goes to marketing the city as a destination and physical enhancements. The rest of Rochester’s money (in two broad categories) goes to economic development and the arts.

The NDDC has informally inquired about the stakeholders’ priorities over the past 18 months. Snow-plowing, regular cleaning and enhanced public safety are always mentioned. However, we will go about our “research” in a more systematic process before moving forward on a possible BID. The stakeholders’ priorities will reflect the challenges and opportunities that they face right now. Five years from now, the list could be different.