Eau Gallie Arts District backers win fight for more funds

After being grilled about its purpose and usefulness, the Eau Gallie Arts District Main Street organization received its $55,000 allocation for 2018, continuing an eight-year process to revitalize the Old Eau Gallie area of Melbourne.

Funded by a small portion of additional taxes gained in the district as a result of revitalization in the Community Redevelopment Area, Main Street program officials successfully argued to the CRA board of directors that the process is working.

They said progress is both apparent and gaining momentum in the district, so its funding should continue to fully realize its potential as a location for new businesses and other redevelopment.

The $55,000 will be used for administration, including the $44,000 compensation for Executive Director Lisa Packard, a $2,500 seasonal lighting project and normal activities “consistent with the CRA plan” such as façade improvement grants.

Special events and festivals – one of the funding questions brought up at the Dec. 12 meeting – are financially self-sufficient and therefore do not need any of the CRA funding. However, events can be problematic as a main source of fundraising, Packard said.

With the 2018 allocation, “it’s really business as usual: we will do what we’ve always been doing but now we know we need to find ways to bring more money in. That’s the goal for any Main Street program, to be self-sustaining,’’ Packard said.

The reason events are not the best fundraisers is because they cost a lot to put on and, if outdoors, they are risky with the often fickle Florida weather

All it takes are strong winds, rain or even the threat of rain to have art shows and other outdoor events fall flat and barely break even, even if well-planned.

An example of the new and hopefully more stable direction in EGAD Main Street fundraising will be an indoor themed party on Saturday night in conjunction with the annual April in Paris event on the first Friday in April, she said.

“Main Street programs are all about redevelopment of the area; that’s the saving grace of Main Street, but it all starts with the events and getting people to understand the progress in the area.

“Now it’s up to our side to take it to the next level in fundraising to make the program self-sufficient,’’ Packard said.

Melbourne City Manager Mike McNees said in just five years he has noticed an increased viability in the EGAD Main Street area, even though the money generated through the tax increment financing there is relatively small. He does expect the area will ultimately benefit from recent zoning changes enabling new developments to get a toe-hold in the up-and-coming area.

He suggested that the big payoffs for the CRA and Main Street program in Eau Gallie may be years off and will require all involved to “keep the long view” and take incremental steps, including putting on quality events, to make substantive progress toward the goal of increased development and self-sufficiency.

“The point of the events (rather than being fundraisers) is to bring in new eyes and vitality to the area. People who normally might not normally have come to the area see what’s going on and they come back and that supports the businesses. It all feeds on itself,’’ he said.

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