Preceding the Presidential equivalent by a matter of weeks, a who’s-who of Main Street business leaders gathered in the basement of Bourbon Blue on Tuesday night to hear the Manayunk Development Corporation’s fourth annual State of Manayunk address.
In previous years, the event served as a chance for the MDC to discuss ongoing development projects and marketing plans for the Main Street business district and surrounding area, but with a crisis looming overhead – the cancellation of the 2013 Philadelphia International Championship cycling race by race organizers – Jane Lipton, executive director of the MDC, began the meeting with a briefing of what had occurred so far.
“I believe it’s really important that the bike race continues to come to Manayunk every year,” began Lipton. Noting that the event put her district “back on the map” in 1984, she said that PIC “sparked the renaissance that we have come to enjoy for the last 28 years.”
With increasing community and business participation succeeding in curbing some of the excesses of event-related festivities, she said the event had made significant progress in terms of the neighborhood in recent years.
However, Lipton related that the reasons for the cancellation were purely financial, and with the loss of a major sponsor – TD Bank – in 2012, race organizers attempted to find a replacement, but were unable to do so.Subsequently, Lipton has been in contact with U.S. Rep. Bob Brady’s office to find an alternate sponsor, because, as Lipton noted, “If the race doesn’t happen in 2013, the likelihood of it occurring in 2014 is slim to none.”
“I don’t believe we can allow that window to close,” she observed, and said that meetings are currently underway to secure funding, at which Lipton said she was assuming a stakeholder role. An update on event-related discussions is planned for Friday.
“I think the bike race is something important to Manayunk,” she said. “A lot of people don’t call it the Philadelphia International Championship Pro Cycling Race: they call it the Manayunk Bike Race.”
Manayunk retail, events and promotion
With the bike race update concluded, Lipton and MDC staffers turned their attention to longer-term agenda items for Manayunk, including ongoing efforts to attract and retain businesses to the Main Street corridor.
Lipton noted that 28 new businesses began in 2012. While the pending loss of the Pottery Barn may have an impact on perceptions regarding the vitality of retail on Main Street, in prior statements to NewsWorks, she said that the strip is operating below a 5-percent vacancy rate. On Tuesday, this was contrasted with 33 empty storefronts that dotted the district in 2007.
“We still have issues,” said Lipton. “What district doesn’t?”
Beyond the vagaries of retail, the MDC has dedicated significant attention to various events that promote the district.
STREAT Food festival, a dining event that started in 2012, was described as a being a great success. This year, MDC plans to have a spring event in April to complement the fall installment.
In terms of events, The Manayunk Arts Fest, which heads into its 24th year, had its highest application rate on the books last year, with approximately 500 applicants, 300 of whom were accepted. Last year also featured an Emerging Artist tent, bringing together nearly a dozen local artists in the early stages of their careers.
Manayunk on Ice, which debuted in 2011, brought between 600 to 800 visitors in 2012. This year’s edition will feature a new logo and format, with “extreme ice battles” planned.
Branding and marketing efforts have also picked up, with a redesigned Manayunk.com website set to launch later in January, coupled with plans to launch Foursquare and Instagram accounts to bolster the MDC’s existing social networking on Facebook and Twitter, which have almost 3,000 likes and 1,550 followers respectively.
Manayunk.com magazine, launched in 2011, continues to expand and 10,000 people are currently subscribed to the MDC e-newsletter.
Achievements related to the Manayunk Special Services District, which provides direct support to businesses along Main Street, were touted as well. Along with a recently renewed contract with the city for 10 more years, the MSSD now has a record number of members – 105 – and a 96-percent dues collection rate, which once hovered at 84-percent.
With many signature projects established, Lipton has begun using an intriguing term to describe what’s coming next: Manayunk 2.0.
While only a concept, Manayunk 2.0 is how Lipton is characterizing the quest to continue to bring new ideas and energy to the Main Street business district. She sought the help of those in attendance to help shape this idea, seeking proposals and suggestions.
As this concept begins to take shape over the next few months, Manayunk can expect something more tangible in the immediate future: “parklets,” a temporary seating platform built on one or two parallel parking spaces that provides users with seats to people watch, according to University City District, which piloted the program.
Howard Mosely, director of government relations for MDC, said that the installations are scheduled to be available in April and should encourage people to stay in the district a little longer than they might otherwise.
“They notice things that they don’t notice when they’re just walking by,” he said. “That means more money, it means more business, it means more people on the street.