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updated: 11/9/2011 11:04 PM

Lombard begins discussing funding downtown promotion organization

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With limited funds to spend on downtown, a Lombard committee began discussions Wednesday night about how much -- if any -- should be granted to the nonprofit downtown promotion organization Lombard Town Centre.

The organization seeks funding for its only staff member's salary, either $38,500 to continue paying Executive Director Karen Stonehouse for 30 hours of work each week, or $53,000 for 40 hours of work.

Any money the village gives Lombard Town Centre would come from a fund dedicated to downtown improvements that has about $580,000 available, Bill Heniff, community development director, said.

So the question of whether and how much to fund the downtown group boils down to what's more important -- spending on capital improvements or paying for the people necessary to build relationships and promote the area, said Dennis McNicholas, a member of the village board's economic and community development committee.

Creating a vibrant downtown isn't as simple as the "Field of Dreams" movie motto "if you build it, they will come," McNicholas said.

"It also takes people to make the dreams work. There has to be a blend," he said.

McNicholas and Peter Breen, a trustee and committee chairman, said they support giving some money to Lombard Town Centre's 2012 budget, but did not say whether they favor funding a full-time or part-time executive director. Other committee members didn't share their leanings as the committee will reconvene Dec. 7 to vote on a funding recommendation to forward to the village board.

Other funding options proposed by village staff include allowing Lombard Town Centre to seek individual grants for events it sponsors, such as the Spooktacular Fall Festival held last month or denying funding altogether, Heniff said.

Four members of a crowd of about 20 Lombard residents and downtown business people spoke in support of Lombard Town Centre's work to bring a few new businesses downtown this spring and create more cooperation among existing shops.

No one spoke in opposition of funding the organization.

"Lombard Town Centre is a viable, vital, very, very important organization," said resident Lynne Magnavite, a Lombard Town Centre volunteer.

But the group wouldn't be the same without Stonehouse's work to recruit new businesses, promote investment in vintage properties and develop events that highlight the downtown.

"I urge you to think about having that person who is really the hands-on face of downtown Lombard," Magnavite said.

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