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Downtown Businesses Looking For Growth
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During a special Riverbank City Council Meeting hosted on Friday morning, Sept. 16, local business owners and interested citizens met to discuss the development of downtown business. Spearheading the session as Mayor Richard O’Brien, and this was the second meeting regarding the growth of downtown Riverbank. The attendance was just about doubled from the first business meeting hosted by the mayor last month.

Downtown business owners gathered and shared ideas and information about attracting more business to downtown as well as more people. With the common goal in mind to create a downtown that is revitalized and expanding, the business owners, city staff, and city council members Darlene Barber-Martinez and Cal Campbell all took part in an encouraging conversation. A couple advisors from Opportunity Stanislaus, formerly the Stanislaus Business Alliance, were also on hand to assist with the business goals.

The route that everyone seemed to be in agreement was to create a BID, Business Improvement District, which would include mainly downtown business owners. The group would get together on a regular basis and discuss their short term and long term goals, figure out the boundaries, and who would lead the movement. The group would need some legal counsel regarding what type of organization they should establish to most effectively meet the goals.

Mayor O’Brien expressed to the guests that the city would help the business owners as much as they legally could. He stated that the Galaxy is a huge draw to bring people to the City of Riverbank and that the CEO, Frank Rimkus, did a study and found that last year in August prior to the IMAX opening there were over 500,000 tickets sold. He shared with business owners that advertising on the big screen may be a great way to market events or their businesses, which may even come at a discounted price.

“I will do what I can do and if it is telling a business how to make their business better or how to do a façade better, I can do that,” said O’Brien.

He noted that part of the problem downtown right now seems to do with some absentee landlords.

“I will take a look with legal on what we can do to have them start taking more interest in their properties,” O’Brien said. “You have a lot of absentee landlords and those absentee landlords don’t care.”

Vena Pearson Hudgins, owner of Vena’s Secrets in downtown Riverbank, expressed that she promotes business downtown on social media and believes hosting events downtown will help bring more people to the downtown area.

“I think in order for our businesses to flourish we all agree on one thing and that is that we need to bring more people downtown,” stated Hudgins. “In order to bring people down here we have to have a reason for them to come down.

“I would love to see us get together and start putting events together. Maybe I am just being a cheerleader but someone has to at this point.”

The mayor explained that the city could help when it comes to events because they could waive fees and help market the event. He also added that he would like to see a Heritage Day around this time that incorporated Mexican Independence Day and Constitution Week celebrating the signing of the Constitution in a combined cultural celebration. The Blues and Bibs event that was held in previous years was also suggested as an event to bring back as well as new events like a Sip and Stroll suggested by Robert Guardiola, owner of All Brands Hearth & Spa.

“What we are talking about is good but really what we are lacking is leadership,” added Guardiola. “We have to form a BID and who is taking the lead on it?”

He noted that part of the benefit of forming the BID would be that local business owners would pay into it to help promote the downtown.

“It would give us a fund and maybe that is small in the beginning but maybe that would promote a small festival or small event,” Guardiola said. “Then we can build that fund up. I think we can all agree that we have to do something to get people downtown and I also think we can agree that the city can’t do it all; it is up to us.”

Riverbank Chamber President Anthony McKinney suggested that everyone leave their information with one person and then meet again to form the BID.

Karen Bickford, owner of Design’s by Karen, was in a Business Association for downtown several years ago and does not believe events are the answer. She stated that she thinks it would bring some people downtown but what she finds more important is attracting new businesses downtown that will complement each other.

With a plan to identify the boundaries of downtown Riverbank and the members of the BID, the group has a place to start and will be meeting again on their own.

“The meeting I thought was very good in the fact that the conversation continued after the meeting was completely over,” expressed O’Brien. “There will be more meetings for the BID but not with the city being the host. Overall I believe that the BID will work but the businesses have to realize this is a long-term investment and short-term goals will not be realized for years.”