Downtown Business Improvement District Board (BID) members are wanting to have conversations with two marketing companies they said they feel can help them better promote historic downtown Columbus and drive more people to it.
The Board, which met at noon on Sept. 11 in the Columbus Community Building, opted to have City Planning and Economic Development Coordinator Jean Van Iperen reach out to two firms they said they felt presented the best and most comprehensive marketing plans. That came after board members Lindsay Thomson and Mary Nyffeler, who both serve on the Board’s marketing subcommittee, ranked their recommended preferences out of the four proposals they received.
“I think for the most part, everyone thinks it’s just all talk and don’t think we’re using their dollars the way we said we were going to use their dollars,” Board President Josh Johnson said after the meeting. “But what they’re going to find out is we’re really trying to make downtown a destination. What we want to do is improve businesses by allowing them to have more customers because they’re being driven to them.”
Throughout the meeting there was much conversation about what a marketing firm would be hired to do. The BID Board had previously solicited public input about how to brand the district and seemed to collectively agree the existing themes related to historic downtown, Main Street, the railroad and the rivers all make sense. A previously conducted BID public survey done via SurveyMonkey and written responses collected during Columbus Days in August generated many suggestions incorporating those themes.
“We don’t need idea generators. Our community provided some really good names,” Johnson said.
The meeting saw quite a few people from the public in attendance, including Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Marketing & Communications Director Ginger Willard, The Friedhof Building Owners Rob and Tracy Gasper and Columbus Arts Council Executive Director Elley Coffin.
Rob Gasper, who has been outspoken about his concerns regarding the BID board members and their idea to hire a marketing company, interjected some of his thoughts during the meeting to the board. That led to a discussion among Josh Johnson, Board Secretary Barbara Duffy, Board member Cory Reeder and Gasper. After the meeting, Gasper said he felt it was a productive meeting and hoped his opinion did not fall on deaf ears.
“We need to let people know what we have already rather than going out spending money on a marketing firm that might give us some good ideas, they might not,” Gasper said. “I’d rather see those funds used on hard improvements, beautification, (wayfinding) signing, improvements in our streets and our sidewalks. I’d rather see the money used on stuff like that rather than a marketing firm that might not even know anything about Columbus and they’re here for 12 months and they’re gone …
“I think this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. I think we need to go through the nuts and the bolts and improve our downtown the best way we possibly can.”
Gasper said he recognizes the BID is a volunteer board and though he does not want any money spent on rebranding downtown right now, he could see the value of a company being contracted in a limited capacity to help with social media or graphics for the downtown district. Gasper said he wants things like the Creative District designation recently given to Columbus time to playout before using a marketing firm for things like rebranding.
Johnson reiterated at the meeting the intent of bringing in a marketing company.
“A marketing company can help us get out a consistent message to help drive people downtown, and that’s the goal,” Johnson said. “Everyone knows what Columbus is and what we are. We don’t want to spend the dollars being told what we know we already are. What we want to use and find out is how do we best roll that out and how is it best planned out.”
During the meeting, the Board also heard from Coffin and Van Iperen about Columbus recently being designated as a Creative District by the Nebraska Arts Council that comes with grant funding to help promote the arts in the area. The collective discussed potential for the Creative District and BID Board to collaborate on wayfinding signage to make both entities’ funding stretch further.
BID Board members in attendance Monday were Josh Johnson, Thomson, Reeder, Duffy, Nyffeler, Kevin Johnson and Kristin Stock. Absent were Dick Tooley and Robert “Bob” Stachura.
The BID Board members scheduled their next meeting for noon on Tuesday, Oct. 10, in the Columbus Community Building, 2500 14th St.
Johnson said he’s optimistic the BID can continue to make progress on revitalizing downtown Columbus.
“I don’t want to spend meetings reviewing previous meetings. We have to continue to move forward,” he said. “Overall, it’s nice to see some of these plans becoming executable.”
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