It's been almost exactly a year since the Salem Main Street Association kicked-off with high expectations, albeit with some valid worries, as I wrote about in "New Salem Main Street Association debuts with questions and concerns."
These related to (1) secrecy, (2) use of Parking Budget funds, (3) managing of funds related to downtown Salem, and (4) current board members/leadership.
About six months later, with essentially zero Main Street Association accomplishments to their credit, I discussed the City Council giving the group a $32,000 grant in "Here's why Salem needs a genuine downtown association." In that post I noted:
Some six months after its public kickoff, Salem Main Street Association just has a blank "under construction" web site nor any other online presence other than a Facebook page with no postings since April 12. This isn't a sign of a vibrant group that is reaching out to Salem citizens and the downtown community.
Yet it just got $32,000 from the City of Salem.
Well, nothing has changed.
The Salem Main Street Association still has no discernible accomplishments, nor any online presence, or any sign that it is reaching out to downtown business owners or citizens in general. Here's what pops up from a Google search: a Salem Weekly story and links to my blog posts about the organization.
Carole Smith, a downtown resident and business owner, drew my attention to the one-year anniversary of the formation of the Salem Main Street Association in a recent email message.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the announcement of the new downtown organization. Are you thinking of doing a re-cap on all their successes?
So far I can’t find any website. The city gave them $30,000 several months ago -- what have they done with it? The business owners don’t even know the name of the organization. We have NEVER received any communication from them.
The Salem Downtown Partnership (SDP) only had 9 months of funding but we had over 40 businesses participating in First Wednesdays every month. We held customer contests with prizes. We had $5,000 Good Idea Grants (for businesses who work together to provide events, etc, that bring people downtown, or enhance the downtown environment).
SDP published a map showing downtown businesses on one side and downtown restaurants and bars on the other. We compiled over 200 email addresses of downtown business and property owners. We communicated regularly with businesses and property owners via US mail and via Constant Comment. We had a weekly newsletter.
We had monthly board meetings which businesses and property owners were encouraged to attend. We held four Mainstreet committee meetings each month on which downtown residents, business and property owners participated. We were a recognized Oregon Mainstreet Organization.
We realized downtown merchants wanted more lights in trees during the holidays (and winter months) but there was nowhere to plug them in, and we wanted a cleaner downtown, but there were very few water faucets available for power washing, so we had grants we gave to any business or property owner so they could install an electrical outlet and/or water faucet at no cost to them. We bought power washers and sidewalk scrubbers which the organization owned and used.
What has this new organization done over the past year? People don’t even know who they are and what their name is.
Remember, you asked me to give them a chance. Is one year enough of a chance? I think this group is a big failure, don’t you?
Yes, I do think the Salem Main Street Association is a big failure. A year certainly is enough to give them to show what they can accomplish, which is essentially nothing.
Their Facebook page has just 54 "likes" and only a couple of posts, the most recent being a December 2017 post about a Go Nuts Downtown promotion, which seems to be the only thing the Salem Main Street Association has been involved with since its inception.
And their web page continues to be Under Construction with no content.
Hopefully City officials will rethink its commitment to the Salem Main Street Association. The concerns I noted at its inception have been borne out. It isn't really an association, since it has no members, just a self-selected board of directors. And it is wrongly classified as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, which it clearly isn't.
In my January 2018 blog post, "Here's some problems with the Salem Main Street Association," I noted that it should have been formed as a 501(c)(6) organization.
Donations to a c(3) are tax-deductible, while donations to a c(6) aren't. Thus the Salem Main Street Association is competing for tax-deductible donations that are only supposed to be available to genuine charities, not business leagues.
Also, there's the potential of business owners getting a tax deduction for a contribution to the Salem Main Street Association, which then engages in promotional activities that benefit those same owners. I'm not saying this has happened, or will happen, but the possibility of it happening is another reason for concern about the Salem Main Street Association being wrongly classified as a 501(c)3 organization.
Another way of putting this is that charitable contributions are supposed to broadly benefit people in a community, not specific business owners.
As noted above, the City of Salem needs to reconsider its policy of giving money from Parking District funds to the Salem Main Street Association, at least until the Association reorganizes itself as a 501(c)6 organization.
Bestowing those funds simply isn't right given that the Salem Main Street Association isn't an actual association, lacking members, and that the Association has wrongly incorporated as a 501(c)3 charitable organization.
As was alluded to above, Salem needs a genuine downtown organization. After a year, it's become evident that the Salem Main Street Association isn't capable of filling that role.