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Plant City Observer Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018 4 months ago

City pulls Main Street funding

Plant City Main Street has had its fair share of hurdles over the past two years. It has lost two executive directors and is in the search for a third. Now it is facing a future without city funding.
by: Breanne Williams Staff Writer

Plant City Main Street is facing a rocky future.

The organization, which strives to revitalize historic downtown, has relied on funding from the city for the past two years to successfully kickstart the program. Each year the city has committed $50,000 to the young group.

Days before the 2018-2019 fiscal year’s proposed city budget was presented to the public, members of Main Street were informed by City Manager Bill McDaniel it was not scheduled to receive further funding.

During the budget presentation Jamey Moody, secretary for Main Street, told commissioners he believed they were making a mistake by choosing to not provide funding for the group.

He said it takes a minimum of three to five years to get any organization up and running and they believed they had a commitment from the city for the entirety of those three years, due to an informal agreement between former City Manager Mike Herr and Main Street board members.

However, that agreement was not at a city commission level. The Chamber of Commerce and the Plant City Economic Development Council, who both also work on revitalization and drawing people to Plant City, did receive funding.

“I’m just being frankly candid, I don’t believe that anybody on our board would have volunteered for this and spent a year and a half of our time if we would have known it would have been pulled, the funding would have been pulled, halfway through,” Moody said. “There’s just no way it would have any likely chances of success.”

Moody told commissioners if they were to ever consider coming back to Main Street they should be ready to give it a minimum of three years to get the ball rolling. He said they still believe in Main Street and still feel the organization is the “best vehicle” to revitalize downtown and create a unique identity for the city.

Dave Schultz, former vice chairman, also stood up to voice his dissatisfaction with the decision. He told the commissioners he was talking simply as a private citizen, but that ripping investment from downtown would only hurt the city’s growth.

“You have to invest in not only infrastructure, you’ve got to invest in a member to get people to come to the downtown,” Schultz said. “I call that the ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality. You build things and they will come. That worked for Kevin Costner in ‘Field of Dreams,’ but I don’t think it’s going to work here. I really don’t. I think you need to have not only infrastructure, but you need to have cohesive planning to work with the Chamber of Commerce, the EDC and the Main Street Program.”

Schultz is the owner of The Mercantile on Collins Street and he said he invested $600,000 into this city by buying a building and working to make downtown thrive. He said he was bitterly disappointed in where the city as a whole is right now.

Over the past two years, Main Street has spearheaded many events like the monthly food truck rallies, the Hot Coffee Series, the new window art movement, Bark in the Park and Shop Small Plant City.

Though the city funding is now gone, Lizzette Sarria, chairman of Plant City Main Street, said the organization will continue its master plan to revitalize downtown.

“We are continuing on,” Sarria said. “We feel we have a lot on our books already with fundraisers and events planned in downtown. We won’t give up now. We’re going to continue doing many of the things we have been doing. We have a strong board and I believe we are making an impact in this city.”

Up until now, Sarria said the organization has been working hard to establish its role in the community. She said they wanted to prove they were making a difference before they started asking for money.

Now, it is time to ramp up the fundraising efforts. There are signature events that Main Street wants to be known for, Sarria said. They also need to get benefactors and solid stakeholders to allow them to continue to do things that bring businesses downtown.

Though she said the lack of funding was unexpected, the plans for the group have not changed. They are still looking for an executive director and still plan to continue to grow the offerings of the organization over the next several years.

Ultimately she said she hopes the city will continue to be engaged with Main Street and potentially partner in matching funds up to a certain amount for its events. She said everyone involved with Main Street still believes in its ability to reshape Plant City and now the hope is they are able to successfully continue their hard work.

“We hope that with the plans we have that funding won’t be an issue,” Sarria said. “We’ve been bringing in exposure to downtown, drawing people in to support that community. Now we’ve got to bring in those dollars to pay for an executive director and continue with the things we have planned going forward.”

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