DeKALB – The future of events like Spooktacular and Breakfast with the Bunny is in question amid mixed signals from the DeKalb City Council on future funding for running them.
The DeKalb Chamber of Commerce is requesting $45,000 from the city to create an event coordinator position to take over the events that Re:New DeKalb has run for years.
The DeKalb City Council voted Monday 5-2 to allocate $25,000 to fund the position, but City Manager Mark Biernacki said the dollar amount would not be finalized until the city passes its budget in May or June.
The money would come from the city’s economic development fund, which is funded by the city’s hotel/motel tax. Biernacki said the city expects to see a boost in this fund with the new Hampton Inn and Suites being built at the corner of South Annie Glidden Road and Taylor Street.
Many of the aldermen spoke in support of continuing the different events downtown at Monday’s City Council meeting, but they also had reservations about the city funding a new position at the chamber.
“I think we’re at a pivotal point, but I am not willing to give any money out of our general fund, which can be used to hire police officers,” 6th Ward Alderman Dave Baker said.
Baker and 1st Ward Alderman David Jacobson voted against the city providing the chamber with either $25,000 or $45,000.
Re:New DeKalb will undergo a fundamental shift later this year, said Frank Roberts, the president of the organization’s executive board. He said the organization will broaden its focus to include economic development in the entire city, public safety, and creating a marketing brand for DeKalb.
“Our proposal would not only address the economic development opportunities, but the other issues,” Roberts said. “That’s not being done in a consistent, well-defined way today.”
Roberts said many plans are in their early stages, but he envisioned the organization working with the DeKalb Police Department on different fundraising efforts or broadcasting the city’s lower crime rates.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Commerce would begin hosting events like Spooktacular, which drew more than 1,000 people to the downtown area, said Lindsey Engelsman, Re:New DeKalb’s marketing and special events coordinator.
Under the chamber’s proposal, Engelsman would move from Re:New to the chamber staff and continue coordinating existing events while helping to create others.
Mark Smirz, the chairman of the chamber’s board, said the chamber needs city support for the coordinator position.
“There’s concern that we’d lose traction, and these downtown events would die on the vine,” Smirz said. “It would be tragic to not keep things going downtown.”
Smirz said he envisioned the chamber needing city support for only three to five years. At the same time, Smirz said he wants to increase the number of activities the coordinator would organize.
On Monday, council members signed off on an initial proposal to allocate $25,000 from the city’s economic development fund to the chamber.
The $25,000 amount was a compromise proposed by 4th Ward Alderman Brendon Gallagher after four aldermen – Baker, Gallagher, Jacobson, and 7th Ward’s Monica O’Leary – opposed allocating $45,000.
“From the Chamber of Commerce to our economic development department here at the City of DeKalb ... to all of these different programs that are trying to pump up DeKalb and DeKalb County, we’re all pulling in the same direction,” Gallagher said. “I’d be more inclined to support a lower level of funding.”
Smirz said he hopes to persuade the council in the coming weeks, but he said the chamber will not be able to fully fund the position on its own.