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posted: 6/7/2013 5:47 PM

St. Charles still pinning downtown hopes on partnership

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As the default marketing agency for what is supposed to be the engine for business in the city, St. Charles officials have tried to get a measuring stick on the performance of the Downtown St. Charles Partnership for the past several years. The search for that measurement will continue this year as aldermen -- meeting as a committee of the whole -- this week voted unanimously to pump another $263,500 into the organization in continued hopes for a vibrant downtown.

Back in 2010, aldermen said they wanted to tie the partnership's performance with the amount of sales tax dollars collected. But in 2011, with the economy still in the tank, aldermen supported a reorganization of the partnership, which occurred in 2012. All the while, the partnership continued to receive funding through tax dollars collected in a special service area for the downtown business district. Now, after the reorganization, aldermen indicated this week they are still struggling to measure whether or not the tax money is being put to good use.

Aldermen William Turner noted only about one-third of the downtown businesses have a membership with the partnership.

"On the surface, that doesn't seem like much," Turner said. "It looks like two-thirds of the people are not involved."

Partnership Executive Director Lynne Schwartz said the membership is low because selling memberships is not the primary goal of the partnership.

"We felt that we needed to take steps to get the business owners engaged," Schwartz said. "We have a number of business owners who participated with the partnership, but not become members for whatever reason. Many of them have had difficulty keeping their businesses open, but they are actively participating in our organization. To us, that was the most important."

Businesses active in the downtown make it more likely that they will stay in the city, aldermen said. Turner said he needs to see a tangible measurement of the activities of the partnership and whether or not businesses are embracing the partnership to continue committing funds.

"Next year for sure, we'd like to see figures about how many people participated, members or not," Turner said.

In the last four years, the city has given the partnership roughly $1 million to support downtown businesses. Funding is expected to decrease slightly for the organization in the next couple years as money flowing into the special service area from the downtown is down because of the number of vacant storefronts.

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