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Downtown delights: Groups plan summer events to connect communities

To Mim Evans, the downtown district is one of a community’s most important parts.

“The downtown is the image of a community,” Evans, the executive director of Genoa Main Street, said. “It’s what people see when they come into town. It’s their first impression of what the community is like.”

Evans is the only paid staffer of Genoa Main Street, a nonprofit organization that plans free community events in downtown Genoa.

As the summer season starts, the event-planning agencies of DeKalb, Sycamore and Genoa are beginning programs in their respective downtowns.

But downtown events such as farmer’s markets and bar crawls require some measure of support from their respective cities. Re:New DeKalb, Discover Sycamore and Genoa Main Street are private organizations, but the city governments are involved in some way.

The city of DeKalb, for instance, allocated $45,000 in tax increment financing to Re:New DeKalb in July 2012. Lindsey Engelsman, marketing and special events coordinator for Re:New DeKalb, said her position at the organization is funded by both private and public sources.

The events Re:New DeKalb holds are funded by private sources, Engelsman said. Some of the events are funded through sponsorships, or by a coalition of downtown businesses.

Re:New DeKalb is undergoing a shift in duties, making it ineligible for TIF. The organization is hoping to turn over its downtown event planning to the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. Engelsman's job could also be transferred to the chamber.

The two organizations presented a plan to fund Engelsman’s position to the tune of $45,000 a year from the city’s economic development fund. The City Council chopped that number down to $25,000; the final amount will be approved with the rest of the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Mark Smirz, the president of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, previously said they will not be able to fund the position fully.

The format the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce is seeking is very similar to what the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce has. There, Lauren Diehl runs the events Discover Sycamore hosts as the events and marketing director.

Diehl said the chamber receives $50,000 a year from the city of Sycamore, with 40 percent of that amount going to the Discover Sycamore activities.

“As a whole, it’s important to have these community events because it adds one more layer on what makes a great community,” Diehl said.

As for Genoa Main Street, it is entirely separate from the local chamber of commerce, and does not receive funding from the city, Evans said.

She said that the group receives “in-kind” support from the city in the form of police and public works assistance. Genoa Main Street’s website lists the city of Genoa as having contributed between $1,500 and $2,500 in in-kind services for 2013.

“Everything else is volunteer,” Evans said. “The volunteers are the key to why things get done.”

Each of the agencies are planning their own farmer’s markets. In Genoa, they’re on the fourth Saturday of every month, In Sycamore, the farmer’s markets are on Sundays, starting June 2 until Sept. 29. In DeKalb, the farmer’s markets are on Thursdays, and those will begin June 6 and will end Sept. 26.

Apart from the farmer’s markets, each of the agencies has its own special set of events planned for the summer. Evans said Genoa Main Street has unique events planned for each farmer’s market.

Engelsman said she is currently planning a golf pub crawl for Aug. 29. With the city shutting down Lincoln Highway between Aug. 29 and Sept. 1 for Corn Fest, Engelsman said it would be a great time to organize one in the city. She said details will be available later.

Diehl said Discover Sycamore has planned a series of Tuesdays on the Town in their downtown. On the second Tuesday of the month, Sycamore vendors gather outside to show off their wares as customers participate in family friendly activities.

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