By Polly Keary, Editor
The Downtown Revitalization and Enhancement Association of Monroe, or DREAM, after many efforts to keep the organization alive, has dissolved.
About a year and a half ago, the city and the Chamber of Commerce made an effort to revive the flagging organization, recruiting new board members and a new president.
Last year, the organization was highly functional, organizing a first-ever Father’s Day Festival for the downtown and starting work on a downtown farmers’ market to begin in 2014.
But DREAM president Paula Fortier moved her business, Main Clothing Company, to Lake Tye, and the organization withered.
That represents a serious setback for the downtown business community. With DREAM goes an opportunity to participate in the state’s Main Street program, which helps cities revitalize their downtowns.
DREAM was founded out of a merchant group initially convened in 2002 to address a street repair they worried was going to take longer than the city anticipated.
The core members evolved in 2005 into DREAM, which took on the job of preserving the historic nature of the downtown. Spearheaded by the determined leadership of downtown business owner Vickie Mullen, who owned a western horsemanship catalog store and the adjacent Hitching Post Cafe at the time, DREAM came to be the administrative organization for a Main Street Program effort.
The Main Street Program is a national program, offered through many state governments, that helps towns use local resources to develop their downtowns into attractive, commercially successful business districts. The program has been very successful in many places; Walla Walla and Port Townsend are two of Washington’s more famous examples.
But in order to progress up through the tiers of the program, a town needs a management organization, which DREAM fulfilled.
Then Mullen and another important leader stepped away to address other matters in their lives, and the organization languished.
In 2010, it sputtered to life again when Mullen returned to the leadership role. In early 2011, discouraged by what she believed was adverse policy-making at the city, she resigned. Once again the group fizzled.
Then in 2012, city and Chamber of Commerce leaders rallied downtown merchants to reinvigorate the group, and it worked temporarily.
But now leadership is once again lacking, and there is no one to take up the slack.
The Monroe Chamber of Commerce considered taking on the role of Main Street Program management, but ultimately decided against it.
Annique Bennett, director of the Chamber of Commerce, talked with the state Main Street Program coordinator only to find the state hasn’t ever had a Main Street Program devolve before and has no policy in place to handle it.
“In a nutshell, the state is still a very long way from even determining what, if anything can be done to help a Main Street organization that’s board has vacated without replacement,” she wrote in a letter to members. According to Sarah [Hansen, Main Street coordinator], DREAM lacks the legal ability to appoint new board members to its non-profit board, interim or otherwise without state intervention.”
So now the Chamber of Commerce plans to put together a downtown action committee to engage downtown businesses, building owners and the community for revitalization efforts.