KINGSTON — The Greater Kingston Area Chamber of Commerce is thinking of ways to pull businesses together.
One of the chamber’s goals for 2015 is to explore the possibility of a business improvement district. It’s a potential solution to draw more people to Kingston without putting pressure on chamber members, while keeping businesses active in the community, Chamber Executive Director Colleen Carey said.
A business district would help with things such as collective advertising and encouraging local residents to shop in the area, Carey said.
“We have a ton of tourist traffic through our town in summer months … And we really need to get our locals engaged in utilizing these [businesses] year round.”
The biggest challenge would be getting all businesses to buy into the idea, Carey said.
“Several small businesses have not historically been willing to partner with other businesses,” she said.
The chamber has run into similar issues. There are several members who “do everything,” while the businesses that are not represented “reap the benefits of their efforts and it’s a source of contention,” Carey said. That becomes a source of contention, causing frustration for chamber members and sometimes resulting in people removing themselves.
Take the BigBelly trash compactors, for example, which is one reason the chamber is considering a improvement district.
The county and chamber had a contract in which the county provided the solar-powered compacting trash cans, known as BigBellys, and the chamber emptied and maintained them. But the chamber asked to end the contract, saying it was hard to find volunteers to do the work. The county removed the BigBellys from Highway 104 on Sept. 16.
Because the trash cans that were removed were not on county property, the chamber had to find volunteers to empty them. Though the chamber was able to find volunteers for some time, eventually that volunteerism broke down.
What may have been at the heart of the issue with the BigBellys, is a few people doing volunteer work that benefitted many businesses. There were even unconfirmed reports of some businesses using the trash cans to dispose their waste.
“Certain businesses were reported as to have been placing their trash into the BigBellys and not taking care of their own solid waste,” County Commissioner Rob Gelder wrote to the North Kitsap Herald. “That wasn’t fair to volunteers/vendors who stepped up to work with the chamber on the project.”
Because the trash cans were removed after the heavy tourism in the summer, it didn’t have much reported effect. However, the holidays could prove difficult.
“From February on it’s going to be mayhem,” Carey said. “People will need a place to put trash.”
One of the first efforts of an improvement district could be taking care of trash, Chamber President Mike Haley said.
“That would be a start for us and to get it rolling,” he said. After that, the improvement district could work on anything businesses want to do, such as incorporating a theme, or beautification, he said.
“Something that would draw owners together to enhance the community and bring more propriety to the town,” Haley said.
So far, the Edmonds improvement district — the Edmonds Downtown Alliance — is a potential model for Kingston. The alliance, created in 2013, has about 350 members in the downtown Edmonds area, according to the alliance’s website. The alliance allows businesses to collectively fund programs related to beautification, marketing, security, parking, clean-up and administration.
Carey said businesses would not have to be chamber members to be in the improvement district. How a business improvement district in Kingston would look, however, remains to be seen.
“We don’t have an approach yet,” Carey said. “We just started kicking [the idea] around.”
Businesses might take some convincing, which would fall under the chamber to do, Haley said. There could be some kind of due or tax, but that remains to be seen; however, work needs to be paid for somehow, Haley said.
An improvement district might be focused in the immediate downtown area, because businesses in the greater Kingston area might not see the same benefit, Haley said.