Frustrated merchants plan to shake up the organization that manages downtown Mesa, saying it must do more to promote the city center.
The board of the Downtown Mesa Association has called an unusual special meeting Tuesday to look at what could be the biggest change in the group’s 25-year history.
Downtown has seen a flurry of new events in recent years that have boosted the number of events and people downtown, but some have complained that small merchant groups have done more than the DMA.
The organization has done a poor job letting businesses know what’s going on and getting feedback, said Betty Freeman, the vice chairwoman of the board and part owner of Inside the Bungalow.
“We have wonderful new merchants in the downtown area that have some really fantastic ideas. Many of them have lived in different cities and come to their new location with great ideas and they need to be heard,” she said. “And there are others who have been down here for a long time who feel very discouraged by the DMA over the last 10, 15 years.”
The board will consider placing its own members in the top management positions to oversee day-to-day operations, rather than the current staff members. Several board members said they don’t plan to oust employees, including Tom Verploegen, who has been president since the group’s founding. Some staff members would hold different positions in the non-profit organization.
Verploegen couldn’t be reached for comment because he was out of town.
Board members say DMA did an excellent job cleaning up downtown in its early days and still manages many things well. But events like Old West Days, Second Friday and Motorcycles on Main are put on mostly or entirely by merchants. DMA needs to expand from a management focus and ramp up marketing and promotion, said Jon Richards, a board member.
“We just need to make sure they’re all equally addressed,” Richards said.
The DMA will consolidate efforts of the small merchants groups, board president Freddy Curry said.
The organization wants to change its image quickly, he said, to show merchants they have a greater voice. That will include moving from its longtime Main Street office to a new location near the Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
“The idea is to make the downtown a single community and right now the easiest way to make something bad is to divide and conquer,” Curry said. “Right now we’re in a divisional state and we need to be in a consolidation state.”