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DDA looks to get out of event biz

December 19, 2012 - It appears the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA) wants to get away from being the sole organizer, budgeteer and host for community events ranging from the annual Celebrate Oxford festival to the weekly summer concerts in Centennial Park.

"It seems as though the DDA is now the head events coordinator for the Oxford area," said DDA Chairman Bill Dunn at Monday night's board meeting. "I don't believe it's our charge. I think that most of our work should be going toward infrastructure. And we seem to be getting away from all that."

The DDA board is expected to discuss this issue further, along with its role in general, at its Jan. 21 meeting after its four committees – Promotions, Design, Economic Restructuring and Organization – have had a chance to meet and give their input.

"It's kind of an important decision and I think everyone should be part of that decision," Dunn said.

Dunn believes if the DDA is going to stop spearheading community events, then it should give everyone plenty of notice.

"I don't want to bring this up two weeks before Celebrate Oxford," he said. "I'd rather bring it up now, so we can have a discussion as a DDA board on which way we want to go. I would like to gear some of this money (spent on events) toward infrastructure (such as the proposed streetscape project) rather than losing money (on) Celebrate Oxford."

Dunn even took issue with the DDA's Concerts in the Park program.

"I don't know (that) DDA dollars should be going into funding bands," he said. "I feel like the Grinch, but it's something that has to be addressed."

Based on their comments, many of Dunn's fellow board members seemed to agree.

"I'd like to draft a letter notifying the village council of our position that we do not want to subsidize these events any longer," said DDA Member Ed Hunwick.

"We don't feel it's in the realm of our mission statement and we need to focus the dollars on downtown development (and) business development. I just don't feel we're in the event business," Hunwick explained.

The DDA's mission statement proclaims it "is dedicated to the physical and economic development of our downtown with emphasis on preserving its historical heritage."

DDA Board Member Anna Taylor admitted the entity's involvement in organizing so many events was born out of necessity.

"The reason we started with the fairs and the festivals – in all honesty, it became fund-raising for the DDA because the budgets were short," she said.

But things got to the point where the DDA needed "so many people" to volunteer in order to "pull off these events" and so many sponsorships "in order to make it work" that it put "pressure" on the entity, according to Taylor.

"We started to lose our focus on where we were supposed to go and what we're really supposed to do as far as the DDA is concerned," she said. "The DDA is supposed to promote the economic development and well-being of the community."

Based on the amount of time and money the DDA puts into organizing events, Taylor believes "the businesses are not seeing dollar-for-dollar recouping of that."

"I want to take a look at all the events that we have had in the past – kind of get a rough idea as to the number of man-hours and the number of dollars that it has taken and the return on the investment that we've received from that," she said. "There's nothing wrong with refocusing on what we do best.

"Wonderful things happen when people discover Oxford, but we (have) got to figure out whether or not dollar-for-dollar, it's working in the right way."

DDA members made it very clear they're not interested in completely eliminating their involvement with community events. They're happy to work with other government entities and nonprofit groups. They just don't believe the DDA should be doing all the heavy-lifting to make them happen.

"We have the Chamber of Commerce. We have the parks and rec. (department)," said DDA Board Member Jim Bielak. "I think we need to do some type of coordinated effort with them. That way we're not stepping on each other's toes. Everybody knows what everybody else is doing and we're not going after the same sponsorship dollars."

"I'd like to see the Lions Club, even the village, participate with bodies and with financial support," Dunn said.

"We don't necessarily have to be the event promoters and planners, but the DDA could always set aside money in the budget to be a sponsor," Bielak noted. "That way were still involved."

"I don't want to abandon (the community), but I would like help from the other organizations in town and even the village council," Dunn said. "If this is a community event, (it should) not (be) solely borne by the budget of the DDA."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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