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City Council OK's $39K to Support Chamber Revitalization

The Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce will provide regular updates as it works to boost its membership and promote both the business community and city services.

Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce officials made their case to the Mill Valley City Council this week that the revitalized organization was a wise investment.

In doing so, they committed to a heap of new projects, including establishing an advocacy board to better reach out to the business community, opening a satellite visitors' center in rotating downtown shops and providing regular progress reports to the City Council after accepting city funds to help rejuvenate the organization.

“We’re not going to have a penny leftover,” said as the new executive director in June, about the $39,392 professional services agreement the council agreed to sign. “We’re going to work for these funds, as we should.”

The agreement, which the City Council unanimously approved at Tuesday’s meeting, formalizes many existing arrangements with the city and establishes clear goals and benchmarks to ensure the chamber stays on track in its revitalization efforts.

Specifically, the chamber will continue to receive in-kind use of its office in the city-owned Depot building, manage the Employee Parking Program and revenue from it, and receive $15,000 for “business vitality services” which includes hosting a holiday event such as Winterfest, supporting beautification programs, and increasing the city’s social media presence.

One of the chamber’s main goals is to increase its membership. It’s risen from 222 to about 240 in the last two months, but once had the support of more than 600 businesses in its heyday.

“We would be thrilled if we got our membership to 300 or 400 this year,” said Paula Reynolds, vice chair of the chamber.

After about an hour of discussion, the council approved the agreement but asked the chamber to provide an informal update to the council in six months, in addition to quarterly progess reports.

“I don’t want to find out at the end of the year that everybody isn’t happy and we didn’t go in the right direction,” said Vice Mayor Andrew Berman. 

Taking a stand

The new Chamber Advocacy Council, which is part of the chamber’s own mission and not a provision of the agreement, is an important change that will be used to reach out beyond the chamber board to provide input and advocacy on city policies, Reynolds said.

By reaching out electronically, and targeting city groups and downtown leaders, it will provide “another layer of businesses out in the community to which we can turn to around issues of diverse opinions," she said.

In the same vein, City Councilman Ken Wachtel scrutinized the chamber’s recent lack of position regarding the unsucessful attempt to open a Subway restaurant at 29 Miller Ave.

The chamber, Reynolds said, will get involved in the regulatory phase of a policy but not individual applications, which his why the organization kept quiet and sent out a letter defining their position on formula businesses in April, after the city council denied Subway. Even so, Watchel said at the time he was trying to get a sense of how the business community felt about the concept of formula businesses in Mill Valley, and not asking for the chamber’s position on the approval of that particular application.

“I was disappointed when I asked the chamber to provide me input with regard to the factors being considered in the Subway matter, because that’s when we really need your input the most,” he said. “It would have been very useful to me then.”

Downtown shops to host visitor center

Wachtel also questioned the chamber’s plan to open in the main office Wednesday through Friday and establish a visitor center at a rotating downtown business on Saturday and Sunday in order to be remain operating five days a week. A sign on the chamber’s office will point visitors to the temporary location.

“I don’t mean to micromanage at this point,” Wachtel said, “but it seems to me the most centrally located place is Depot Plaza, and the most demand for it would be Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

However, it comes down to cost, Reynolds said, and the chamber has a paid staff during the week.

“As we develop volunteer capacity, we may be able to keep it open during the weekends,” she said. In the meantime, the chamber views it as a way to get visitors into businesses, and increase visibility downtown.

“It’s a win, win,” she said.

Despite Wachtel’s concerns, he, along with the rest of the chamber, enthusiastically approved the agreement and commended chamber leaders for their hard work and dedication.

“You’re doing it because you think it’s the best thing for the city,” Wachtel said. “And I thank you for it.”

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Beads of Marin September 23, 2012 at 03:48 PM
It appears to be, at least from reading this article, that the Chamber will continue to focus on Downtown only without a mention of other areas of Mill Valley. Why would a business that is not located in the downtown area want to contribute to the Chamber when not a single word or concept has addressed the needs of other areas?

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