Elgin downtown group: New farmers market drew more people in 2018, more changes to come
About 5,000 people attended the revamped farmers market in Elgin last year, an increase of at least 25 percent, and this year's market will include more entertainment and chef demos, and possibly an expanded footprint, according to the Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin.
Jennifer Fukala, the agency's executive director, discussed 2018 accomplishments and plans for the year at the city council meeting Wednesday. The agency has a $135,000 yearly contract with the city; the current contract expires March 31, 2020.
The new farmers market location on South Grove Avenue with Friday afternoon hours got very positive feedback, Fukala said. A survey showed 59 percent of market-goers did other things downtown, such as frequenting bars and restaurants, and visiting businesses and parks. This year's market, June 7 to Oct. 4, might expand onto DuPage Court, she said.
New initiatives include "Munch Madness," a social media-challenge this month between downtown restaurants and restaurants elsewhere in Elgin. A new series of educational workshops starts Monday with one focusing on surveys for small businesses.
The agency also is working on projects in collaboration with the city and other entities, including adding wayfinding signage and bike racks downtown, Fukala said.
A big focus has been on data collection, said Fukala, who started the job in September 2017.
"We have established a new baseline and we are creating more 'measurables' at the council's direction. Our team is continuing to better define and quantify the work that we are doing," she said.
The agency's website at downtownelgin.com was redesigned in May 2018 and got 50,000 views from 15,000 individual users, she said. The agency had an 86 percent increase in Instagram followers and 11 percent increase in Facebook followers, and 22 social media posts that went viral with more than 3,000 views, she said.
The downtown association was involved in 36 leads regarding economic development -- people interested in starting businesses, buying property and more -- and 10 came to fruition, including new businesses Bricks Wood Fired Pizza, Kubo Sushi and Sake Lounge Sushi, and Vida Yoga and Fitness, Fukala said.
"I am very proud to open a business in downtown Elgin. The resources that the DNA and Jan have given us have been great," Bricks co-owner Frank Sibr told the council.
Downtown property owner Dan Strojny praised the agency for helping him with ongoing research about how to convert into homes.
Councilman Terry Gavin asked if the agency had vacancy rate data for downtown. Fukala said she's working on figuring out a way to quantify that accurately, taking into account available resources and the unique features of downtown properties.
Data obtained from the Elgin Development Group shows vacancy rates in Elgin are 4 percent for retail and 4.6 percent for industrial, Fukala said Friday.
Other major events lined up this year are Cinco de Mayo celebration May 5, a pub crawl sometime in summer, Winter Wonderland on Dec. 7 and an award/recognition dinner "to celebrate the volunteers who have helped us achieve all of this," Fukala said.
Attendance for Winter Wonderland in 2018 was 2,000, or about half that in 2017, when warm weather attracted people, while last year there was freezing rain, she said.
The agency changed the location of its Winter Market to Artspace Lofts in 2018, when it was attended by more than 600 people. Also, 120 people attended the pub crawl last year, Fukala said.
The agency launched a new membership model last year, with free membership and services for all downtown businesses, and "premium" membership at $200 per year with perks like customized social media promotions and enhanced listings. The agency sold 52 premium memberships, she said. "We're here to help everyone," she said.
The work received praise from council members. "I'm really just blown away because I can see the growth from last year to this year," Councilman Corey Dixon said.