Meeting focuses on downtown revival

By Paul Wagner

Leadership, image and maintenance of downtown businesses were the top three improvements recommended at Thursday’s Downtown DeKalb Planning Meeting.

About 40 merchants, property owners, city officials and customers who attended the meeting were divided into seven groups to prioritize problems identified at the last meeting. All seven groups said a full-time manager is needed to lead the downtown revitalization.

Tom Wilson, executive director of the Galesburg Downtown Council, said the job of bringing customers to downtown DeKalb would be “ten-fold” more difficult without someone to manage downtown. Wilson managed a revitalization of downtown Galesburg.

An outside manager is not necessary, Wilson said, adding a manager for DeKalb is probably “right here in this room.”

oger Hopkins, director of the department of community development, said downtown DeKalb has been slipping in recent years in terms of its market share and property tax receipts. The major issues for the commission’s next two meetings will be funding and leadership for a revitalization plan.

Wilson said he visited some of DeKalb’s downtown merchants. He said while improvements in maintenance are needed, “you’re (DeKalb downtown) not falling apart. You have a lot going for you.”

NIU is an important asset for improving business downtown, Wilson said. A promotional discount for Knox College students in Galesburg was very successful, he said. Businesses need to “invite” students into their stores, but the attitude of the salespeople will determine if students return, he said.

Wilson said about 80 percent of Galesburg’s downtown businesses participate in its downtown council. All of the property owners participate through a 1 percent special service property tax used to fund a full-time maintenance crew, he said.

Thursday’s meeting is a step in the right direction, Wilson said. Both the public and private sector contributed to the meeting. Cooperation among both sectors is important to a revitalization, he said.