Friday, April 26, 1996, Vol. 110, No. 83

4/26 jts CCC meeting New CCC head wants cohesion, direction By JAMES SNYDER The Daily News The Center City Commission must focus its mission, retain existing businesses and closely coordinate Downtown projects with each other, said Edmund Armentrout, the agencys new president, during the commissions monthly meeting Thursday. Thats a shift in emphasis away from recruiting outside businesses and toward concentrating on holding onto and improving whats already there. One idea Armentrout put across was that the commission become a facilitator, landowner or leaseholder Downtown to help smaller businesses locate there. "What I propose is that we become consultants and brokers for small and medium-sized businesses" as a civic, not-for-profit development firm, he said. Arguing that Downtown development plans lacked direction and cohesion, Armentrout proposed the commission create a simple "Pocket Plan" to help determine what was the best kind of development for the area. That way, the commission could figure out the relationship among new projects and Downtowns major features, such as the Pyramid, the Pinch district, Beale Street and the Main Street Mall. "If it doesnt fit together, then its just a series of projects," he said. "Downtown must be linked in such a way that visitors will stop at all the landmarks, so one area doesnt remain the sole destination." At the same time, Armentrout challenged older ideas of "linkage" such as the plan to link Downtown and the medical center using the trolley. Without a clear idea of why the city should link the two areas and what would line the corridor, it remains difficult to sell for businesses, he said. Armentrout introduced his development staff, starting with vice president Raymond Brown, an architect and urban designer acquainted with Armentrout in Dayton, Ohio, where he was founding president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership. Following Brown as director of development, Armentrout named Edward Cross, formerly director of development for the Memphis City Division of Housing and Community Development. As part of the development campaign, Armentrout proposed a database to list property resources Downtown, information on vacant property and available office space as a "value-added" service for companies considering Downtown. Under his yet-to-be-chosen vice president of marketing, Armentrout foresees an image makeover for Downtown, with a campaign shifting from a national audience to a local one. Among the development proposals, Armentrout argued for an emphasis on ground-level retailers to spruce up the Main Street Mall as a way to bring people into Downtown and better its image as a commercial center and destination. While the commission sponsors several annual events Downtown, Armentrout said there needs to be a way to use those to put more money into the pockets of Downtown businesses. Armentrout said the center city could market itself as a place better conducive to business relationships than isolated, suburban areas. With more people concentrated Downtown, he said, more interaction among business people can take place. That fosters the creative exchange that build relationships. "We have to tell them a serendipitous contact with a colleague at lunch will be more valuable to you than the green field outside your suburban office," he said. But the most important undertaking, he said, was to retain the businesses already in Downtown. Local, expanding companies help the community more than relocated firms do, he said, but right now there is no growth Downtown. "Companies are leaving Downtown in greater numbers than they are coming in," he said. "We are net loser of jobs Downtown every year." Overall, Armentrouts proposals met with general approval among commissioners. Some raised concerns over the burden of the seemingly endless series of plans written up by city and county agencies. Others were not thrilled by the idea of an expanded, bureaucratic commission role in brokering, facilitating or buying Downtown real estate. Then there was concern over money, including the burden of an extensive fundraising effort. "For it to work, weve got to have funding outside the county and the city," said commissioner John Stokes. "Were going to have to get involved in fundraising."