A group of local business owners has been working for months to start an organization that can provide a voice to downtown merchants and to help promote events that benefit the downtown.
The members call it "Real Fredericksburg," and today they announced that a seven-member board of directors has been formed as the framework of the organization.
"We believe that by pooling our resources and our knowledge into an organization with the best interest of our neighborhood as its only goal, we can better promote, preserve, and improve what we have here," said downtown business owner Paul Cymrot, who is one of the founders.
The board of directors are:
- Scarlett Pons, Owner of PONSHOP
- Dave Minckler, Owner of Raven Hi-Fi
- Andi Gabler, Owner of The Schooler House Bed & Breakfast
- Wilson Greenlaw Jr., Senior Associate Cushman & Wakefield Thalhimer
- Megan Mason, Director and Owner of Village Montessori of Fredericksburg
- Paul Cymrot, Owner of Riverby Books
- Sue Bridi, Community banker for more than 20 years, Union First Market Bank
Real Fredericksburg is expected to be part of the city's Main Street Program. The next step for the group is to file for nonprofit status and join the Main Street program later this year.
"Its goals are the goals that we will come up with as individuals and as a community," Cymrot said about Real Fredericksburg in a prepared letter.
Fredericksburg participated in Main Street, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for a short time in the mid 1980’s, but the executive director resigned and the program never had a chance to succeed. The Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority (EDA) in May 2011 appointed a six-member Main Street Exploratory Committee and it made numerous recommendations that can be found here. The program would cover all 37 downtown blocks where approximately 270 commercial buildings and 235 businesses exist. Fredericksburg City Council has budgeted $30,000 in the fiscal year 2013 budget for Main Street, and the EDA estimated the program would need $225,000 per year.
The city's Downtown Retail Marketing Initiative, which evolved out of the city's Main Street program when it ended, has gone through a host of directors and has not been very active in years. The Economic Development Authority expects DRMI to merge with the Main Street program.
Cymrot and Pons have met with numerous business owners, compiling ideas and wish lists for improvements to downtown. Cymrot said the list is long and some of the items can be completed in a weekend, such as flowers and tree boxes, while others could take much longer, such as having a performing arts center and an expanded riverfront park.
A subgroup of the Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Fredericksburg, called the "Downtown Gang," released a survey in June that had more than 1,000 people respond and call for improvements to downtown. One of those "wish-list" items was a downtown theater.
"It's a to-do list that grows every time we talk to someone," Cymrot said. "But we haven't been able to talk to everyone yet."
Cymrot said Real Fredericksburg will hire a full-time director to help run the nonprofit, but the process is still in the formative stages and the group is seeking opinions and more participants. He said there will be committees formed that will be dedicated to marketing and preservation, infrastructure, and the arts and special events. He said the group is planning a public meeting soon.
"We'd like to find a way to get as many people involved as we can," Symrot said. "That's the only way to make Real Fredericksburg truly representative and truly successful."
Anyone interesting in participating in Real Fredericksburg can email Cymrot at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his book store Riverby Books at 805 Caroline St.
"If you think the whole thing's a terrible idea, let us know that too. There's still time to correct course and that's the very reason we're making this general appeal," he said.