- 2014 - January - 9th -

Chasing dollars for Downtown Vision

By Max Marbut, Staff Writer

It was a tough time financially for Downtown Vision.

Employees hadn't received raises for five years and the budget for the Downtown Ambassador program had been dramatically reduced.

Despite that financial climate in March, Executive Director Terry Lorince pitched her board the idea of creating a director of strategic partnerships position.

Among the duties would be finding sponsors, partners and donors to bring in additional revenue for Downtown Vision, which is funded by an additional tax from property owners in the 90-square-block Business Improvement District.

Lorince said a successful director would be able to generate enough money to cover his or her salary and benefits.

"If you hire someone, you want them to pay their salary," she said.

In fact, the revenue goals set by the board are $75,000 for 2013-14, $125,000 for 2014-15 and $150,000 for 2015-16.

Lorince chose Valerie Feinberg, a former president of the San Marco Preservation Society, whose salary and benefits are about $75,000. She started six months ago.

Feinberg faces a tough battle collecting money to help promote Downtown. By the time she was hired, the Downtown Marketing Collaborative was already on its way to securing $1 million in donations for its effort.

Telling DVI's story

Lorince said the first step in developing partnerships and sponsorships was being able to tell Downtown Vision's story. One of Feinberg's first projects was to revamp the organization's annual report.

"When she came here, she said she needed a way to better articulate who DVI is to make her job easier to raise funds. That's where we are six months in," said Lorince.

The change in direction toward seeking partners and sponsors was mandated by Downtown Vision's board members. After 12 years, it was time to shift away from promoting Downtown as an experience and begin promoting the organization.

"We have not done a very good job marketing DVI. The board has decided we need to tell our story," Lorince said.

She added, "This is a long-term strategy for us. It's not about knocking on doors right away."

A little more than a quarter of the way into her first full fiscal year, Feinberg has raised about $6,000, Lorince said. That money came from contributions made by DVI board members and a separate $1,000 sponsorship for the 10th anniversary of First Wednesday Art Walk and annual meeting in November.

Feinberg's calendars for November and December show few meetings with potential sponsors. Her calendars are public record but she is not required, by law, to keep them. She also declined to tell the Daily Record who she had talked to about sponsorships.

Lorince said Feinberg's calendars were never intended for the news media, then added that Feinberg is not a very good record keeper.

Competition for donors

As Feinberg's work continues, she has some stiff competition from a group that's also seeking support for Downtown.

The Downtown Marketing Collaborative, creators of the "Downtown is on Fire" campaign, grew out of a JAX Chamber committee that recommended more active promotion of Downtown as a destination.

Wally Lee was president of the chamber when the group was founded.

He retired from the organization in March and served as 2013 chair of the collaborative.

Lee said the collaborative's mission is to change perceptions about Downtown, not to promote Downtown activities. He said the latter is Downtown Vision's responsibility.

Within a few months, the collaborative raised $350,000 in increments from $5,000-$25,000. Top-tier partners include the chamber, the Jacksonville Jaguars, JEA, Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the Jacksonville Civic Council, the NAIOP commercial real estate organization and Visit Jacksonville, Lee said.

The Urban Land Institute local chapter, the Jacksonville Landing, the Florida Theatre and other businesses also are contributors.

Lee said the understanding among the partners is that the funding commitment is for three consecutive years.

That takes more than $1 million from the most likely contributors to fund Downtown marketing and promotional partners off the table until at least 2016.

"We are very much aware of the organizations that are around and their requests for funding," said Lorince. "We're aware the dollars are limited and we have to be very strategic because we really haven't done this before."

Chris Flagg was chairman of DVI's board when the decision was made to ramp up the partnership and sponsorship effort by creating Feinberg's position.

He said in view of the marketing collaborative's success in securing long-term commitments from the limited pool of prime donors, a more aggressive strategy is needed.

"Everybody's knocking on the same doors," Flagg said. "It's not going to be an easy road. A lot of people have been slapping at the low-hanging fruit. It's time to climb higher into the tree."

Downtown Vision also is involved with Friends of Hemming Plaza, a group that wants to manage and program events at Hemming Plaza.

As part of the plan submitted to the city, the group plans to raise $150,000 of the proposed $915,000 first-year budget for the project. The rest would come from taxpayers, according to the proposal.

Looking ahead

When asked what potential sources there might be to meet the board's increasing expectations for revenue generated by Feinberg, Lorince said, "That's a good question."

Feinberg said she has identified prospects that might view Art Walk as an attractive sponsorship opportunity, but declined to name specific possibilities. The presenting sponsor's fee would be $70,000, with varying levels of sponsorships ranging from $2,400 to $15,000.

"Who's out there that needs to be engaged that hasn't been engaged?" Feinberg said. "We want to involve folks that haven't been traditionally involved in Downtown."

Downtown Vision board Chair Debbie Buckland said Lorince has been providing the board regular updates on the fundraising effort and it soon will be time to unveil the organization's plan to raise funds through sponsorships.

"Expect within 30 days a formal announcement about launching our initial fundraising plans," Buckland said the week before Christmas. "We'll be ready to go public, set appointments and make asks."


"If you hire someone, you want them to pay their salary." - DVI Executive Director Terry Lorince said when hiring Valerie Feinberg


Wally Lee, 2013 chair of the Downtown Marketing Collaborative, said his group has raised $350,000, with the understanding the commitments are for three straight years.


"Everybody's knocking on the same doors. It's not going to be an easy road. A lot of people have been slapping at the low-hanging fruit. It's time to climb higher into the tree." - Chris Flagg, former DVI board member


"Who's out there that needs to be engaged that hasn't been engaged? We want to involve folks that haven't been traditionally involved in Downtown." - Valerie Feinberg, director of strategic partnerships


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