As the Town Council and planning staff begin negotiations with contractors to redevelop the historic downtown area, the announcement of the incorporation of the Herndon Downtown Alliance proves timely.
Created by members of the former Herndon Downtown Business Council, the alliance was named an affiliate of Virginia's Main Street program. That affiliation led to the recently granted incorporation, and will allow the group to take an active role in promoting and developing the historic downtown district — including offering recommendations on the downtown's proposed redevelopment.
"This is literally a mini Chamber of Commerce for the businesses in downtown," said Richard Downer, Herndon business owner and member of the organizing committee. "We are literally there to promote the downtown and that includes improvements in the downtown area."
Herndon resident Betty Hatfield filed the application to be an affiliated member of the Virginia Main Street program, and now that it has been accepted, Herndon's downtown alliance will follow the state program's strict guidelines regarding organization, promotion and design.
According to the group's Web site, it will focus its efforts on three areas:
* Promoting historic downtown Herndon businesses;
* Revitalizing historic downtown Herndon; and
* Increasing public awareness of activities, events, the arts, entertainment and services which are available in the downtown area.
IN THE APPLICATION to become an affiliate, 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," she said in her letter.
Hatfield went on to explain what has been completed in downtown and what has been done to promote future developments in town. She also explained 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," Hatfield said.
Citing the fact that Herndon has so many events going on in the downtown area, Downer said one hope of the group is to increase communication between the businesses located in the historic downtown district. Another goal is to increase communication between the town and those downtown businesses.
"We hope to have a united voice in working with the town on various downtown issues," said Downer.
Listing things like garbage clean up, street lighting and aesthetics like flower pots hanging from streetlight poles, Downer said the group wants to help the downtown represent Herndon's small-town feel.
"Herndon has a unique downtown," he said. "It's never going to compete with Reston Town Center, but it's also not that kind of animal."
Along with opening communication lines between fellow business owners to brainstorm improvements, the alliance hopes to work as a sounding board with the town.
When the town staff has questions regarding redevelopment or improvements they currently have no downtown organization to consult with. Instead they can meet with businesses through the Chamber of Commerce, or meet with individual business owners.
Through the alliance the Town Council or staff could have a point of contact that would represent the businesses only in the downtown area, and not the entire town, said Downer.
"They will now be able to have a place to go to to then talk to the business community," he said. "A united voice will make it better for the town too."
THOSE INTERESTED in joining the alliance as a member must be a land owner or operate a business in designated areas of historic downtown Herndon.
For those who do not operate or own a business in the selected jurisdiction but are still interested, the alliance offers an associate membership. Associate members can attend and contribute input during meetings, but will not have the opportunity to vote on decisions.
Because the group is still polishing its bylaws and is in the process of nominating and appointing its board of directors, membership opportunities have not been offered.
The hope is information will be posted on the alliance's now-operational Web site, and special membership deals will be offered to entice participation. Currently the Web site lists the alliance's history, ways to get involved in town and also links to other organizations geared toward promoting Herndon.
"We're not going to reinvent the wheel," said Downer of the group's role. "The Visitor's Center had a calendar, so we have a link to their Web site. We would like it to be so if someone says 'What is going on in downtown Herndon tonight?', they can go to our Web site and find out."
By November the group hopes to have an interim board of directors and interim officers, said Downer. The official board of seven members is scheduled to be elected around January 2006.
The group is also scheduling a breakfast for Nov. 4, where group members will have the chance to meet each other and hear from the town's planning staff regarding downtown redevelopment projects and the ongoing zoning rewrite process.
Although an agenda has not been set for the organization's first project, Downer said he thinks the group will begin looking into bringing a "nice-looking events sign" to replace the existing sign in front of the Town Hall.
"I grew up in downtown Herndon from the time I was 12 years old," said Downer. "It really is a special place and always will be."