Members of the Downtown Business Council have begun a new project that they hope will help unite core downtown businesses, while promoting Herndon.
Last February, members of the council were notified by the Commonwealth’s Department of Housing and Community Development that the request for a downtown affiliate had been approved.
Filed by Betty Hatfield, to be an affiliate of Virginia's Main Street program, the approval will allow the group to take an active role in promoting and developing the downtown.
"Our downtown needed some specific attention," said Chris Griffin, member of the Downtown Business Council. "Hopefully the business owners will get behind us and rally for this program."
In the outlined rules of the program it states that communities, like Herndon, that are exploring downtown revitalization possibilities but "may not be eligible for designation, those that do not wish to meet Main Street requirements or those that wish to apply the Main Street approach in a non-traditional commercial setting" may become an affiliate of the larger program.
Officially recognized by the state as "Town of Herndon: a DHCD Commercial District Affiliate," the group will replace the current Downtown Business Council.
Called the Herndon Downtown Alliance Inc., as an affiliate, the group has to meet strict guidelines under the Main Street program regarding organization, promotion and design.
"OUR GOAL IS to promote the downtown businesses as a district, a place to do business and as a place to entertain," said Richard Downer, member of the organizing committee. "If the downtown were a shopping center, there would be a management company to help run everything."
Downer, also a bylaws sub-committee member, said because the Downtown Business Council is run as a branch of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, the group cannot dedicate its efforts on one specified area in Herndon.
That's why business council members decided, with the backing of the chamber, to break off as a separate committee.
"The chamber was instrumental in promoting the Downtown Business Council," said Griffin, also a bylaws sub-committee member. "But, in order to solicit funds and grants we needed to have our own entity."
Griffin said as the business council grew, members began looking into other avenues to promote the town.
"One of the reasons we felt separation [from the chamber] was necessary is because the Downtown Business Council didn’t have a lot of identity outside of the chamber," said Downer.
In the application, Hatfield listed reasons why the group wished to expand its outreach capacity.
"The downtown has been the focus of several major projects during the last three decades, including the Herndon Harbor House senior housing project and the Town Green-Fortnightly Library-Herndon Municipal Center complex."
Hatfield went on to explain what's been completed in downtown and what has been done to promote future developments in town and how the group hopes to use its affiliate status.
"We hope to use the Main Street approach to recognize and revitalize our group, provide focus and increase involvement among land and business owners and town officials."
Citing the fact that Herndon has so many events going on in the downtown area, Hatfield said one hope of the group was to increase communication between businesses in town.
Griffin explained in addition, as a 501(c)6, the group will be able to promote the businesses in the selected downtown area.
Unlike the Promote Herndon Committee that promotes all of incorporated Herndon, Griffin said the alliance will target the specific businesses within what is considered the "core downtown" of Herndon.
Downer compared the alliance to a merchant's association.
"To be a regular member of the downtown alliance," he said about membership requirements, "you have to own land or operate a business in a specific designated area that we have outlined in a map."
He added that once the group is fully established — hopefully by July 1 of this year — that he would technically not qualify as a member.
"I will not be eligible to be a 'regular member' and thus hold any office, since I do not own property, live or operate a business in the designated downtown area," he said. "I knew that going in and, hopefully, will be able to 'step back' once we have the new Herndon Downtown Alliance Inc. up and running."
As an "outsider" with an interest in the town's revitalization, Downer said he could become an associate member.
This membership option allows people without a business or land in the area to join the group.
Although associate members will be able to add comments in discussions, ultimately they will not be able to vote.
AS AN ORGANIZATION, in addition to increasing communication between the core businesses downtown, Downer said the group will work to lobby for things to help make the downtown area more appealing.
"There has been a push to get flower baskets on the light poles for this summer because it looks nice," he said. "In addition, the group should be able to give the town’s government someone to talk to about what is needed downtown."
He said this could range from parking enforcement issues, to changing parking designations in areas where parking is not an issue.
In addition, the group hopes to advocate for the downtown and help with the process of the downtown revitalization that will include everything from a parking garage to a potential downtown cultural arts center.
Still figuring out membership numbers and details, Downer said they are working to finish the organization’s bylaws and mission statement so that things could move forward.
In addition he said no officers or directors have been named for the affiliate.
"We’re still in the preliminary stages," he said. "But, I have a personal goal to get something done as soon as possible."
Once the group receives its incorporation this summer they will launch a membership drive to gain publicity and members.