Debate Continues Between Douglas Business Owners & City Over How To Revive Local Economy
One or more restaurants that offer lunch and alcohol beverages during the summer time and retailers that feature men’s casual apparel—these were some of the main ideas thrown about at Monday’s Douglas City Council meeting as the discussion over how to improve the city’s sluggish downtown economy continues to get heated or, as others suggest, heated but with a sense of impetus and resolve.
The council’s discussion was prompted by local realtor Dick Waskin’s January 13 letter, itself a response to downtown business owner John Thomas’ recent memo to the business community.
While Waskin calls for “concrete actions” the city could take to make the local economy better, the council is not sure how much of a role the city can take other than offering its support to the Douglas Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
Tax incentives - one example advanced by Waskin - are appropriate for bigger cities that have bigger budgets and can easily absorb those arrangements, noted Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere.
Thomas expressed concern over the “tenuous” economic health of the downtown district and made a call-out to fellow retailers, restaurateurs, building owners and the DDA, suggesting different ways each sector could help in the situation.
Thomas points out, for example, “that the two most visible full-service restaurants in town are only open for lunch on weekends—even during peak season.”
When both restaurants and retailers shorten their hours, it assures a pattern that only goes to perpetuate and exacerbate an already complex problem, Thomas argues.
On the other hand, Waskin says—in his response letter addressed to Douglas Council—he was “dismayed by the negativity promulgated by John Thomas’ comments as well as his current negative press (in reference to the Local Observer Newspapers’ article in the Jan. 9th edition quoting Thomas’ letter to the city).”
Unlike Thomas, Waskin sees a role for the city to play.
“There are some very concrete actions the city could take today (to improve the economic forecast).”
Examples he gave include buying the old “Chaps” building and offering tax incentives or government-backed financing to entice new businesses.
“Yes the business owners have a responsibility to advertise, supply products that people want, stay open and help support the downtown. But, I firmly believe the city government has a responsibility to support the health and welfare of the downtown area as well,” said Waskin, in his letter.
“I find the discussion good,” noted Douglas Council Member Neal Seabert, saying the back-and-forth positioning has brought the issue to the forefront and may prove to be the impetus that leads to change.