PA Untied? Downtown association directors withdraw group from merger effort

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Downtown Association board of directors has made it official:

The association is withdrawing from efforts to consolidate with two other business groups under a PA United umbrella group without a vote of the general membership, as at first promised by board President Bob Lumens.

“The Port Angeles Downtown Association board of directors believes that dismantling three longstanding organizations is premature for a model that is unproven,” board members said in a four-page email to the organization’s members.

“We are still working on a way for you to express your opinion on this topic anonymously, but we wanted you to have the facts now,” they said.

“Should a vote become necessary, we will be equipped to do that.”

Lumens estimates that the association has 178-200 members.

The board voted to send the letter by a 10-1 vote, with the board unable to reach the other two members of the 13-person board, he said Monday.

The email was prefaced by a statement from Lumens.

“We don’t feel a hostile takeover is a positive way to begin a relationship affecting the livelihood of so many, and that is how we have come to view the intentions of those promoting PA United,” Lumens said.

“Too much of our time this year has been wasted on this endeavor.”

Lumens had expressed misgivings about merging with the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Port Angeles Business Association ever since representatives from the three groups began meeting Jan. 29 to discuss ways to mount a unified effort to spur business development in Port Angeles.

Business association Vice President Tim Smith has spearheaded the PA United effort.

“The pullout leaves the business community divided, and the whole intent of PA United was to unite the entire business community,” Smith said Monday.

“The board sees themselves as being more important, more special than the rest of the business community in Port Angeles, and they’re wrong.”

Smith said downtown association board members were not fulfilling their responsibility to represent downtown businesses.

“Clearly they are not representing all those businesses because many of those businesses that have been in contact with me and others working on PA United are very disappointed with the downtown association board,” he said.

About 70 chamber members also are downtown association members, said chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema.

The downtown association board voted 7-1 on June 23 to withdraw from the process.

But the following night, when the proposal was presented at a meeting attended by about 30 downtown association members, views appeared evenly split.

‘Needs to be done’

A week later, Lumens told Peninsula Daily News the general membership vote “needs to be done” by July 10, when the proposal was slated for completion.

“I changed my mind; we changed our mind as a board,” Lumens said Monday.

“We changed our mind, and there you have it.”

The membership elected board members “to be their representatives to make these kinds of decisions,” he added.

“The more people we talked to, the more there were people who said, ‘this isn’t right; this is not going to work; this isn’t right for us.’

“It was pretty clear it was not a usable program.”

Lumens, owner of Northwest Fudge & Confections on First Street, has said a merger would dilute what the downtown association is now doing for downtown businesses, from maintaining the area’s parking lots through the Parking Business Improvement Area (PBIA) to creating downtown business promotions to paying for Christmas lights.

As of January, the downtown association was to receive about $65,000 in 2014 in taxes the city collects from downtown businesses through the PBIA.

Lumens also has said the merger also might make the downtown ineligible for business and occupation tax money that the downtown association is now receiving under the state’s Main Street program.

The Downtown association is receiving $20,000 under the program this year.

Lumens said the email to members was written jointly by Lumens, Executive Director Barb Frederick, board Vice President Rick Mathis of Smugglers Landing, board Secretary Lauren Jeffries-Johnson of Udjat Beats and board Treasurer Eric Brown of Brown’s Outdoor and included input from other members of the board.

Their reasons for withdrawing included objecting to the city managing PBIA assessments as the city “sees fit” and the loss of “a dedicated downtown voice.”

By state law, the city is required to spend PBIA proceeds for such purposes as downtown parking facilities and promotions, just as the downtown association does, said Nathan West, city community and economic development director.

Chamber board President Todd Ortloff said the downtown association’s withdrawal is “disappointing.”

There are no plans to cover the loss by increasing dues above what chamber and business association members are already paying, Ortloff added.

Consolidation centers on task-force panels of unlimited membership that would focus on downtown-main street, promotions and marketing, government affairs, operations and business development, and entrepreneurship.

Memberships of the chamber and the business association are expected to vote on the plan later this year.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at pgottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 28. 2014 6:47PM
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