Proposed Hillcrest Community Development Corporation would help focus on long-term economic revitalization
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
At the July 25 Hillcrest Business Association (HBA) quarterly open house, Executive Director Benjamin Nicholls outlined the organization’s desire to join the California Main Street Alliance, a state-wide, membership-based commercial revitalization program.
Nicholls proposed the creation of a Hillcrest Community Development Corporation (CDC) that would partner with the HBA in order to meet all certification requirements of the Main Street Alliance. Since 2004, the Main Street Alliance has partnered with the state’s Office of Historic Preservation.
“This would be a traditional non-profit organization that would be designed to benefit the Hillcrest community at large,” Nicholls said at the meeting, which was held at Mary Murphy’s Champion Ballroom Academy. “The [HBA] benefits businesses, and that’s it. But this would benefit the Hillcrest community.”
The CDC would be a separate organization with its own 501(c)3 status, Nicholls said, and the two groups would apply for Main Street Alliance membership as a “single entity,” which he said is allowed under current guidelines.
“Traditionally, Main Street organizations are 501(c)3 organizations because they have a goal beyond just helping businesses, and so the CDC would be that traditional nonprofit,” Nicholls said. “The business association cannot help anyone beyond businesses … and it wouldn’t be legal to do anything otherwise.”
Nicholls said the purpose was not to “reorganize” the HBA, but would offer a way for residents, business owners and community activists to shape long-term goals for the neighborhood.
The Main Street program has four focus areas – Design, Promotion, Economic Restructuring and Organization – that shape each member’s certification, called the Main Street Four Point Approach. The approach is used by The National Main Street Center, Inc., a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“We do two of those things really, really well,” Nicholls said at the meeting: Design and Promotions. “What we don’t do very well is Economic Restructuring and Organization,” as the HBA is a “service organization” that only provides support for existing businesses in Hillcrest.
A new CDC would oversee Economic Restructuring and Organization, as these do not provide direct services to HBA members, Nicholls said. For instance, under Economic Restructuring, Nicholls said a CDC could bring in new businesses to Hillcrest to shape the overall type of commercial services offered. While the HBA could do this, he said one of the HBA’s main duties is attracting customers to the businesses that are currently in Hillcrest, not future businesses.
“[The proposed CDC] would focus on the big picture,” Nicholls said, calling it the “big-picture brain” for the Hillcrest community.
“The Hillcrest Business Association and the Hillcrest Community Development Corporation would act in tandem, work together, and would be the Hillcrest Main Street Alliance,” he said. “The HBA would do cleaning, beautification and promotions – the direct services for members – and the [CDC] would be the … big picture.”
There are currently three other area neighborhoods certified under the Main Street Alliance: Coronado, Ocean Beach and North Park. North Park Main Street, overseen by Executive Director Angela Landsberg, is both a business improvement district and an affiliate of The National Main Street Center.
Nicholls said the proposed CDC would initially be funded by the HBA through their special events, including this month’s CityFest and last month’s Pride of Hillcrest Block Party. The organization would be governed by a separate board of directors, and would potentially have separate staff.
“My goal is to have the two boards overlap considerably,” Nicholls said. The current HBA board is made up of 11 Hillcrest business owners or employee representatives. Board elections are held each fall, in October.
At the meeting, Nicholls took questions and said he welcomed feedback. Luke Terpstra, the Hillcrest Town Council board chair, asked about potential redundancy with several organizations already working toward similar goals.
“I have to be concerned about the future and the condition of the Hillcrest Town Council and other groups, like the History Guild,” Terpstra said. “I see some redundancy in your HCDC, that some of that [work] is already taken care of, and I’m wondering about our future.”
At the meeting, Nicholls said he hoped groups already doing historic preservation would be a part of a new CDC, and in the week following he reiterated his hopes that all members of the community, whether from the Town Council, the Hillcrest History Guild or any residents, would be a part of a new CDC.
The CDC’s work, he said, would not supersede the work the Town Council currently does, which he partly sees as providing a Town Hall-style forum for a “community discussion” on pertinent issues for Hillcrest.
The Town Council’s mission is to “provide a voice and enhance the quality of life for Hillcrest residents, renters and homeowners,” and Terpstra said he is remaining positive and waiting to hear more about the program. There was no discussion of a proposed start date at the HBA open house.
“Main Street USA’s model for working with neighboring town councils and community associations has worked very well in the past in other locations,” he said following the meeting. “I am hoping for a smooth relationship with Hillcrest Main Street, and would be available to serve on any of their boards if it is appropriate. If it helps Hillcrest then I am interested.”
For Nicholls, the majority of feedback so far has been positive, primarily because members do not want the HBA to become “something that it’s not,” he said.
“For 90 years, it’s served its members and I don’t want us to be doing less of that in the aid of something else,” he said. “So the idea of having these two groups that will form our Main Street effort is pretty popular.”