Boosters of Downtown Dade City Main Street portrayed the group's demise last week as a case of mission accomplished. Certainly, this agency has much of which to be proud, but the end can be more accurately described as resource competition.
Main Street and other non-profit groups find themselves competing for financial support in a still tepid economy that has witnessed a shrinking pool of community philanthropy. Likewise, government subsidies are no longer guaranteed and could even be reversed under an idea floated by Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez. She suggested last year that Main Street, the chamber of commerce and others pay a festival fee to the city to offset the municipal costs of supporting downtown events.
Against that backdrop, Downtown Dade City Main Street closed its doors because it was unwilling to attempt more fund-raising simply to cover its overhead. It is understandable, but still unfortunate considering the group's 25-year track record of success. It helped turn a deteriorating, run-of-the-mill downtown into a destination as an attractive antique district. It persuaded the city to begin a redevelopment agency to keep increased downtown property tax revenues within the business core. It lobbied Pasco County to refurbish the Historic Courthouse and keep its administrative offices within downtown. It stretched the Seventh Street beautification south of Meridian Avenue and, just three years ago, it administered tens of thousands of dollars worth of fix-up grants that brought new paint and exterior improvements to buildings that again were showing signs of age.
Sure, the organization stubbed its toe once in a while. It confronted strong community push-back to proposed mandatory building design standards devised after the downtown movie house was sold and demolished in the late 1990s. But it escaped the grumbling about unaccountability that surfaced from time to time in New Port Richey where City Council members questioned the return on public investment. A similar sentiment recently led the Polk County community of Haines City to shutter its Main Street organization. There, after merchants complained about high downtown vacancy rates, the Haines City Main Street board disbanded in December and the city government assumed the role of business recruiter that formerly had been delegated, along with a $52,500 annual subsidy, to its Main Street group.
The Florida Main Street program calls for a four-pronged approach to downtown improvements: community organizing, promotions, design standards and economic restructuring. Downtown Dade City Main Street can point to multiple successes on all fronts, particularly with its promotions and its community organizing that attracted an influential group of core volunteers that over the years included downtown boosters, business owners and elected officials.
That is key. Even though the Downtown Dade City Main Street charter is now inactive, its supporters don't have to be. They, the chamber and the merchants group should strive for continuing the group's mission of "working to ensure that downtown remains the heart and soul of our community.''