Downtown Perspective

There was that cold sensation in my stomach and the uneasiness that comes with starting an adventure that you have no idea where it leads. It was January 2nd, 2014 and I was walking into my first day on the job as Executive Director for what was still called the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association. Up to that moment of walking into the office and getting the key, I had felt pretty confident. But walking up the stairs that morning, things became very real and very intimidating. Thoughts of self-doubt began to creep into my psyche, and I knew by the end of that first very long day that I had a lot of work to do.

Four years later I make that same climb up the flight of stairs to our office, some days with that same uneasiness of my first day. Each day is another blind adventure that unfolds in some form of working to serve our community. I look back on the first few weeks at the office and cannot help but reflect that it felt more like trying to take a sip of water from Niagara Falls. The amount of work that this organization puts into building the best Downtown community is staggering, and to be a part of such a team is humbling. Nearly 12,000 volunteer hours went into Downtown SLO programs this year alone. That does not account for staff time, intern time, or the time that each business invests. I would be remiss not to mention the time that our City employees put into helping to polish our beloved Downtown into the jewel that it is.

To have a high functioning Downtown of this size, it takes a village. I am blessed to be a part of the tribe that gets to serve our community. Four years later, I can handle most situations with ease and confidence, but sometimes… sometimes there’s that rogue issue that pops up and throws me for a loop, and that cold pit in my stomach returns. What I have come to know is that there is a tribe mentality in Downtown. There is always somebody that I can turn to to be a quick sounding board, get historical recount of why things are done a certain way—or more excitingly—a team of people eager to build a better solution. Personally, I feed off collaborative efforts and just knowing that Downtown has a support network so robust to turn out so many volunteer hours is the reassurance I need to get up and go. Still, that hesitation lingers and I suppose it will for years to come.

The hesitation comes from wanting to do the very best I can for this organization and community. In many ways I think it is healthy to pause when we are on the brink of something daunting, something never encountered, or something that we have previously failed at. To blunder into every situation without a care or concern would be irresponsible. Over the past few months, I have been really working to understand this concept and to embrace that hesitation and alertness that comes with facing uncertainty. As an organization, we are growing in all of the right ways. New businesses are thriving, some construction projects are completed while others are making solid progress, footfall is constant, and I have seen more publicity raving about San Luis Obispo than ever before. And then there is Downtown SLO.

For those of you that have been following us for the past couple years, you already know that the Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market reboot has been great; our association rebranded with a new name and brand with matching website; and we have been increasingly engaged in community outreach and education. However, that has merely been the foundation work for what we will be working on in 2018. This year will mark our most monumental push in recent years—and I can assure you that after sitting with these plans—I am confident that we are on the cusp of taking Downtown SLO into the next 25 years. We will be well positioned to start working on the Downtown Concept Plan, and to help businesses and residents in new ways.

In 2018 we are making a huge investment in Downtown SLO. We are proud to be relocating to a new property on Chorro Street with ground floor access for all of our clients and guests. We will have a new pop-up retail component and information service for tourists, a meeting space that is large enough to sit all of our board members or committee members at the same table, and better prepared to service our existing programs. Inside our new facility, we will be working to implement a new business model that will provide continued programs like Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market, Concerts in the Plaza, and more: but we will be looking ahead at new things like improving Downtown cleanliness, business recruitment and retention strategies, and even more place making activities. We plan to do this through a combination of a new foundation to support those efforts, Friends of Downtown SLO, as well as a new funding mechanism to afford the much needed improvements and services.

This year, our organization will need all of the support we can get from the community. Trust me, I will be asking all of you for support. Support us by coming out and shopping in Downtown businesses, eating in local restaurants, and having more fun at our events. All of the work, planning and energy that our Downtown businesses and organizations put into creating this place is for you. Please take advantage of those efforts. Seeing you enjoy yourself in Downtown SLO is what makes climbing those stairs every morning for the last four years worthwhile. And for the record, I still feel like every day I’m trying to drink out of Niagara Falls. The difference is, now I bring a poncho. Cheers to 2018!