LOMBARD – The Lombard Village Board of Trustees last week approved funding for a community-based organization dedicated to growing the village's downtown business district.
Trustees voted 5 to 1 at its Dec. 19 regular meeting to approve a $55,000 request from the Lombard Town Centre for funding for 2014. Trustee Bill Ware cast the lone dissenting vote.
Ware, who requested unsuccessfully that trustees work to compromise on a lower funding amount, said his vote against the request does not mean that he doesn't support the organization.
"I still trust you guys and believe in the downtown," Ware said prior to the vote.
The overall goal of the Lombard Town Center (LTC), located a 6 S. Park Ave., is "to create and sustain a flourishing downtown business district," according to the LTC website.
Walter Smith, president of the LTC, addressed the village board during the public comments portion of the meeting and stated that 2013 was an important year for the village's downtown.
In the calendar year, six new businesses opened downtown, with more on the way in 2014, Smith said. The LTC hosted 13 events, which included outdoor viewings of Bears and Blackhawks games, and the organization's Spooktacular, which brought roughly 4,000 guests downtown, he said.
The move to a new office at street level has increased the LTC's exposure, and the organization's social media presence has further enhanced its reach, Smith said. The LTC website received roughly 30,000 views in 2013, nearly 2,000 emails and the organization's Facebook page has more than 700 "likes," he said.
"When you look at the big picture, we have a large following of people online who want to know what is going on downtown and look to us to find the answers," Smith told trustees.
In 2014, the LTC's goals include increasing membership and sponsorship, creating new events and increasing the effectiveness of past events, Smith said.
Ware, during discussion, said it was his impression that the organization would eventually be self-sustaining. Ware acknowledged that he voted to approve funding last year but voted against it the previous year.
"I was under the impression that this would be a self-sustaining effort," he said. "Realistically, I don't know if that will ever be the case. I would love to see if, because I know this board has made a good effort in making sure that other not-for-profits do become self sufficient."
Ware's claim was refuted by other board members, include Trustee Dan Whittington, a former president of the LTC, who said that the organization has never once made a claim to be self-sufficient.
The LTC has continually put together the most in-depth budget package of any that is presented before the village board, said trustee Peter Breen, who added that funding comes from the village's downtown tax increment financing district.
"These are monies that are meant to be put back into that community," Breen said. "When I joined this board, we had roughly 20 vacancies in downtown Lombard and we have since cut it in half. I see incredible progress here. We're quibbling over the difference of $5,000 when this is one of the finest and best performing organizations in our community."
The village board approved a $50,000 budget for the LTC in 2013.
Lombard residents support downtown initiatives, trustee Laura Fitzpatrick said.
"Pulling the funding means sentencing our downtown to certain doom again – a ghost town," she said.
Prior to the approval, trustees encouraged Smith to continue soliciting for additional membership and corporate sponsorship, and also to focus on increasing fundraising efforts in 2014.
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For more information on the Lombard Town Centre, visit www.lombardtowncentre.org.