The umbrella group that promotes downtown Overland Park is regaining its footing after a year of upheaval, said Executive Director Mary Cyr. Despite the sudden loss of its staff as 2019 began and an unforeseen financial problem, the Downtown Overland Park Partnership finished the year solvent and in better shape for the future due to some structural changes, she told the city council’s Community Development Committee Wednesday night.
“It was a bit of a crisis at the end of 2018 but I think sometimes crises are good. They make us change,” she said.
Cyr took over as head of the group about three months into 2019, after an abrupt exodus of an overwhelmed two-person staff.
The downtown partnership is a non-profit the city contracts with to do promotion of downtown and to tend to other tasks that make the area attractive. It also is a liaison between the city, chamber of commerce, the public and businesses in the business improvement district.
In the third quarter, as the partnership prepared to hand over control of Farmers Market promotion to the city, Cyr said she discovered an error that had caused the group to totally exhaust its reserve fund.
The changeover to city control meant the partnership had to return $30,000 of a grant the city gave it for Farmer’s Market promotion. But because of an oversight, Cyr found that since 2016 the promotions budget had been overspent. Promoting the market cost closer to $45,000 to $50,000 – a mistake that had gone unnoticed. The partnership’s total reserves started out at $50,000.
Since then, the partnership has made some changes and is back on a more positive path, she told the committee. Still, it may take five years to completely build the reserve fund back up, she said.
But giving the Farmers Market promotions to the city staff will free up the downtown partnership for other promotions, like Third Fridays and special events, Cyr said. For instance last year the group had two successful events, a block party and Winter Wonder Week Celebration. Each attracted 500 people, despite being on the hottest and coldest days of the year, respectively.
The partnership will begin recruiting sponsorships for the market and share 25 percent of the revenue, up to $15,000, with the city.
The business improvement districts fees also have been restructured.
“We were in a troubled spot last year but we’ve emerged solvent and payrolls met and everything in place,” she said. To keep that going, Cyr hopes to get personnel, perhaps interns, to help with the community engagement and events plus an ambitious agenda to market the area for new business, sustainability and diversity.