By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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PA United presented its final recommendations to the boards of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce and Port Angeles Business Association in a joint meeting Thursday.
The onus falls on the boards of both groups to determine whether it makes sense to join forces — with or without the Port Angeles Downtown Association — to create a single, unified business organization to more effectively promote business development.
“If this consolidation happens, it’s not the end of the story but the beginning of the story,” said Steve Burke, a chamber board member who serves on the PA United design team.
“It’s going to change over several years. What we designed here was something that could survive change and is adaptable to change.”
Chamber and business association board members agreed to discuss the consolidation proposal with their respective memberships.
No formal action was taken by the two dozen board members who attended the 2½-hour meeting at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles.
“There was a commitment from both organizations to discuss the proposal and make a decision in the near future about consolidation,” said Jim Haguewood, facilitator of the PA United effort, in a Friday interview.
Haguewood said he was optimistic that the boards would give serious thought to the proposal, which has been in the works for six months.
“It’s up to those boards now to decide how this moves ahead,” he said.
The downtown association board of directors voted 7-1 last month to withdraw from the consolidation effort.
No vote has been taken by the full membership.
Downtown association President Bob Lumens said his group is considering an anonymous poll of its members regarding consolidation.
“We’re trying to find a way that we can send out an opinion poll, as it were, that can be secure online,” Lumens said in a Friday interview.
Lumens, who did not attend Thursday’s meeting because it “would have sent a weird message,” said he and others on the board spent “hundreds and hundreds” of hours attending PA United meetings and poring over documents.
Ultimately, the downtown board determined that a merger was not in the group’s best interest, he said.
“Other communities have tried this, and it doesn’t work,” Lumens said, referring to similar efforts on Bainbridge Island and in Spokane.
Lumens provided no timetable for the distribution of the opinion poll.
“I don’t want to be pinned down to something because the landscape keeps changing,” he said.
According to a draft mission statement developed by PA United, the as-yet-unnamed new business organization would work to “provide leadership with the community, businesses and entrepreneurs to achieve a unified voice in promoting economic growth in the greater Port Angeles area.”
The greater Port Angeles area as proposed would cover ZIP codes 98362 and 98363.
Under consolidation, members would participate in at least one of five task forces: business development and entrepreneurship, organization, government affairs, promotions and marketing, and downtown-main street.
Three members of each task force would serve on a 15-member leadership board. The heads of each task force would help keep the other work groups on task.
PA United recommends the establishment of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity that would operate independently but in support of the organization’s five-year strategic plan.
Consolidation would result in $50,000 to $75,000 in savings and reallocations, officials said.
The proposed budget, however, factors the downtown association as being part of the new group.
Without the downtown association’s B&O — business and occupation — tax money and Parking and Business Improvement Area, under which the downtown association maintains parking lots, “what’s left in it as far as the budget goes?” Lumens asked.
“That’s a real important concern,” said Lumens, who owns Northwest Fudge & Confections on First Street, on Friday.
Chamber board member Alan Barnard asked PA United officials to revise the proposed budget to anticipate PADA’s continued absence.
“I’ll be doing that,” Haguewood said Friday.
PA United officials offered to present the proposal to the three boards independently.
Patrick Irwin, a Port Angeles attorney representing all three business groups pro bono, said the new organization would have a symbiotic relationship with PADA.
“Regardless of what the chamber and the business association end up doing, there’s going to be an ongoing negotiation, and there’s going to be an ongoing communication,” said Irwin, when asked if consolidation without PADA is putting the cart before the horse.
“There’s going to be a downtown task force, and no matter what, they’re going to be augmenting and working with the downtown association in whatever way the downtown association chooses to participate.”
Said Burke: “If and when the PADA decides to come back, or if they’re not there anymore and we want to bring in the downtown business members, [the plan] is designed to be flexible to be able to do that.”
The chamber has 491 members, the downtown association has about 170, and the business association has about 70.
Chamber Vice President Sharon Stevenson questioned why a well-established organization like the chamber would ditch its highly recognizable name to team up with a smaller, advocacy-based business group without the downtown merchants at the table.
“I guess I just feel like without that third party, we’re missing a really important piece of this,” Stevenson said.
Ray Gruver of the business association, who also serves on PA United, responded by saying chamber members for years have said the organization doesn’t do enough.
He returned to PA United’s core concept of “united we stand and divided we fall.”
“But we’re missing someone,” Stevenson said.
Earlier in the meeting, Gruver said there has been “a lot of conversation, a lot of heartache around the PADA.”
“But nobody, nobody that I know sitting around that table ever once didn’t want them here, didn’t want to hear what they have to say,” he said. “And I don’t see any reason why that would ever change,”
Jacob Oppelt of Next Door Gastropub, a former downtown association member, said at the meeting that he was in “absolute full support” of the consolidation effort.
“I really hope that if there’s members and/or associations that don’t want to be a part of it that you think about it more because right now, we don’t have a better solution,” he said.
Oppelt pointed to the economic benefits of eliminating duplicative functions.
“We’ve got three paid directors; you have three offices being rented,” he said. “I mean, those are just simple, hard numbers that make sense.”
Oppelt said the larger issue is making Port Angeles a more attractive place to start a business.
“This town is so much better than this little club bickering, BS, nobody-working-together stuff,” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.