Downtown Association to close

Bulletin photo by Floyd Whiting

Buffalo Chamber of Commerce CEO Mike Knebel waters one of the recently installed planters on Sunday on Main Street in Buffalo. The Chamber of Commerce took over maintenance of the planters after the Buffalo Downtown Association stepped away from the project before announcing plans to close its doors after a third consecutive year of receiving no funds from the city or Johnson County.

The Buffalo Downtown Association announced it will soon be closing its doors due in large part to the elimination of the bulk of its funding from the both the city of Buffalo and Johnson County this year.

According to a press release from the group’s board of directors dated Tuesday, June 25, BDA Executive Director Jon Cordonier will be dismissed from his position, effective July 1. The release goes on to say the BDA will cease operations by Aug. 1.

“Due to a lack of financial support the Buffalo Downtown Association has no other alternative than to discontinue economic development activities and projects that help support downtown Buffalo businesses,” the release states. “The board will be working through the process of finalizing operations of the organization.”

The BDA received an offer of minimal funding this year from the city and no money from the county commissioners. Buffalo Mayor Shane Schrader said he voted against funding the BDA this year, based on the recommendation of a volunteer committee that reviewed applications for 1% sales tax funds.

“Funding is becoming less and less for a lot of these organizations,” Schrader said. “We have to make tough decisions for where the funding can go to benefit the most people.”

BDA “promoted downtown Buffalo, but it goes back unfortunately to dollars,” Schrader said. “Where can the most dollars be spent the best for the most people in Buffalo.”

For fiscal year 2020, the BDA had requested $37,500 each from the city and the county in 1% sales tax funds, and an additional $12,000 in county severance tax funds. Those amounts fell victim to final budget cuts from both entities.

The city did offer BDA $10,000, to be used to support a handful of the agency’s programs: the setup and maintenance of flowers in downtown Buffalo, the purchase of new event banners for downtown and to help with the cost of the Light Up Buffalo fireworks show at Christmas. With the exception of $1,890 to reimburse BDA for direct costs already incurred for the downtown flowers, the group declined most of the funding.

“I guess, if you’re not going to fund us (fully), that $10,000 doesn’t really make sense,” said Scott Madsen, a member of both the Buffalo City Council and the BDA board. “If we can’t keep the doors open, can’t pay the rent, can’t keep the organization afloat, what good is the $10,000 if there isn’t an organization to give it to.

Mike Bacon, chairman of the BDA board, agreed, saying there had been questions for a while about the future of the BDA.

“The BDA is not funded to operate going forward,” Bacon said. “So we didn’t think it was fair to the community and the city to take that money for just the flower purchase and management of the flowers when it was very possible we might not be in operation going forward.”

At a recent City Council meeting, Madsen lodged a protest vote against the fiscal 2020 city budget on its third reading. He told the Bulletin last week that his negative vote was in direct response to the deletion of funding for BDA from the city budget.

“We still need to keep our Main Street program,” Madsen said. “It would have died for lack of a second if I’d tried to make an amendment (to the budget). That was about all I could do to make a statement.

“It’s not so much the money, as it is the lack of support,” Madsen said. “It’s been ongoing for three or four years.”

BDA is the offshoot of a predecessor organization, the Buffalo Development Association, Cordonier said. The original charge to the organization was to promote economic development and the downtown Buffalo business community. Additionally, in Buffalo and Johnson County, JOCO First and the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce operate with similar mandates.

According to a Sept. 14, 2017, article in the Bulletin, the BDA, JOCO First and the chamber met two years ago with the Buffalo City Council and Johnson County commissioners and were told, in essence, there wasn’t enough money available to continue to support all three. Elected officials at the time asked if there was “duplication of efforts” between BDA, JOCO First and the chamber, and whether the city and county could operate with just two of the three.

“Coming from a numbers perspective, this budget year (2017) was difficult on the city and the county,” city council member Travis Lawrence said at the time. “I anticipate next year being twice as bad. So, looking to the future, I think a good, open discussion to have is what kind of services do we produce and is there a way that we can do the same kind of service with less money?”

News the BDA would cease operations by the end of summer is “disappointing, I guess,” Lawrence said Monday, adding his decision to remove funding for BDA from the budget was based on the recommendations of the volunteer 1% sales tax committee.

“The unfortunate thing is we can’t fund 100% of an organization’s budget,” Lawrence said. “We wanted to show the BDA support on some level (with the $10,000 in 1% funds offered). Be it minor, it would have filled the gap to accommodate three of their ongoing programs they’ve done in the past. But it wasn’t what they wanted.”

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