Due to financial concerns, the organization that promotes Downtown Lodi businesses will fold.
The Downtown Lodi Business Partnership board of directors voted unanimously Monday to disband. Executive Director Jaime Watts said she doesn't look at the decision as bad news. Instead, it will put Downtown businesses on a sounder footing as the Lodi Chamber of Commerce takes over some of the DLBP functions.
The change will not affect the Downtown Lodi Farmers Market on School Street, which operates each Thursday from the first week of June until the final week of September. Nor will it affect the popular Parade of Lights, held the first Thursday of December each year, Watts and Chamber President/CEO Pat Patrick said.
"My goal is to make sure every event will continue," Watts said Monday. "I will try to find a home for each of them."
The Farmers Market and Parade of Lights are the only DLBP events that make money, Watts said. While the Chamber takes over those two events, Watts said she'll try to find organizations to run the annual Downtown Trick or Treat & Fall Festival, Winterfest and a Valentine's Day event.
DLBP operated on a $130,000 annual budget — $40,000 in dues by Downtown partnership members and $24,000 from the city of Lodi. Most of the remaining revenue came from the Farmers Market and Parade of Lights, Watts said.
"It seems like we were working just to get by," Watts said. "We don't have the resources to do what we really want."
Watts and DLBP Board President Sam Rehmke plan to meet today with City Manager Rad Bartlam and City Attorney Steve Schwabauer to discuss the logistics of the DLBP disbanding as an organization. The Lodi City Council will be required to conduct a public hearing before the change is finalized, Watts said.
"The average life span of a business district is five to seven years," Watts said. "We're now in year 14."
City Councilman Bob Johnson said he heard a rumor that the Downtown partnership might disband, but he hadn't heard the board of directors had actually voted to do so.
"I'm looking at it positively," Johnson said. "The Chamber over past several years has been able to put on some pretty significant events (such as the Street Faire). They have the manpower to pick these events up. The chamber has a successful track record."
Watts will continue her role as the DLBP's executive director through Feb. 28. Then she will help the chamber through the transition on a contract basis.
"We want it to be a seamless transition," she said. "That's our goal."
DLBP board member Ryan Sherman added that the Chamber has an economy of scale to improve Downtown business and tourism.
"Downtown is a crown jewel for Lodi. Thousands and thousands of people were in town over the weekend," Sherman said, referring to the annual Wine & Chocolate Weekend, hosted by Lodi Winegrape Commission. The event is held at several Lodi-area wineries and tasting rooms, including some in Downtown Lodi.
"There were a lot of out-of-towners," Patrick said of the Wine & Chocolate Weekend. "Many of them were in Downtown Lodi for the first time."
Sherman said he likes the idea of the Chamber forming a new committee to focus strictly on the Downtown area. On Monday morning, the Chamber hired a woman to work part-time to visit farmers markets in other communities, such as Walnut Creek and San Luis Obispo, to get some new ideas for Lodi's operation.
Chamber officials are also exploring the idea of hiring a part-time employee to run the 17 Downtown Lodi Farmers Markets this year. Anyone interested in filling this role may contact the chamber at 209-367-7840.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.