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DDA to focus on downtown, existing businesses in 2021

Staff Writer
Herald Democrat
The Denison Development Alliance has announced its plans for the upcoming year.

The Denison Development Alliance plans to focus its efforts in the upcoming fiscal year on downtown revitalization, support for existing businesses and clean up of a former industrial site.

The Denison City Council recently approved a $3.66 million budget for the city’s economic developer that includes funding for facade grants, improvements in downtown buildings and other projects aimed at supporting businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been 20 years that I’ve made this presentation,” DDA President Tony Kaai said before the city council last week. “I wanted to say on behalf of the DDA staff and me that it is an honor and privileged to server this council and the citizens of this city of 20 years.”

For the upcoming fiscal year, the DDA is expecting its revenue, which is backed by the city’s sales tax, to increase by 2 percent over this year, despite the ongoing pandemic and the temporary closure of many businesses earlier this spring.

“Who knows what will happen, but year to date we have seen a six percent increase,” Kaai said. “So we are going to budget for a 2 percent increase.”

Of the nearly $3.66 million of expenses in the budget, about $335,000 will be put toward downtown-focused projects. The budget includes $225,000 for the DDA’s facade improvement program, which helps match business investment in the front appearance of downtown businesses. An additional $10,000 will be set aside for facade reclamation.

An additional $100,000 will be dedicated to a new program aimed at adding fire suppression to existing downtown businesses and buildings. Earlier this year, the DDA announced plans to provide 50/50 matching grants for businesses wanting to install sprinklers inside their buildings.

The move comes nearly one year after a fire on Main Street destroyed three buildings, including loft units and two businesses. Previously, DDA officials said the program was designed to prevent a similar event from occurring downtown in the future.

The upcoming fiscal year will see the DDA continue another program into the next fiscal year. The budget includes $95,000 of funding for the DDA’s e-commerce incentive program.

During the height of the pandemic, the DDA approved setting $60,000 toward assisting businesses in building online retail platforms or adopting existing services, like DoorDash. The move came as many businesses shuttered their doors and saw little to no foot traffic during the spring months.

Officials said the program proved to be highly popular, which led the DDA to shift additional funding the the program from its marketing expenses.

“We are continuing to heavily invest in the rehabilitation of buildings on Main Street. Second to that, we are going to heavily invest in the e-commerce program,” Kaai said.

The market side of the DDA’s business has shifted considerably during the pandemic. While in the past efforts have focused on external marketing and recruitment, Kaai said the DDA plans to internally during the pandemic.Funding for some traditional programs, including trade shows, has been reduced and allocated elsewhere.

“The marketing and recruitment of industry is definitely going to be a new ball game,” Kaai said, describing the COVID-19 pandemic as a dominant issue. “During COVID-19 we’ve been focused on internal marketing, the e-commerce program and the zero interest loan program and continuing to upgrade and rebuild the appearance of Main Street with the facade grants.

“We are continuing to focus on building. When things swing around, we will return to recruiting.”

For the 2020-2021 budget, $2.59 million of expenses are attributed to one-time projects and costs. The vast majority of this is related to the long-time goal of purchasing and cleaning up a former brownfield site.

In 2020-2021, the DDA plans to invest $2.1 million in the purchase and clean up of the former Johns Manville industrial site, with plans to redevelop it as an industrial park. The site was previously used for the production of pipes, which contained asbestos, which has been connected to certain forms of cancer.

By comparison, the DDA is projecting $2.65 million in revenue for the year, which will result in a deficit budget. However, this will be absorbed by the DDA’s fund balance, which is slated to end the year with $2.11 million in the bank.

Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at mhutchins@heralddemocrat.com.