by Charlie McKee
After Board Member Jeremiah Garcia's introduction at this month's Gila Economic Development Alliance (GEDA) Roundtable session on Friday, June 21, 2013, he asked the almost 50 attendees to introduce themselves and to explain their interest in GEDA and their stake in the community. The attendees represented numerous local businesses and banks, as well as the Town of Silver City, Hurley, Western New Mexico University (WNMU), and several non-profit organizations.
Garcia also thanked GEDA Board Members Arlene Schadel and Paul Leetmae for organizing the GEDA Roundtable meetings and urged the attendees to contact them regarding speaking at future Roundtable events.
Garcia then introduced this month's guest speaker, Greg Shaver, President of Chino Federal Credit Union and owner of downtown Silver City's "The Hip Store." Shaver explained that he had been recruited to Chino FCU to turn its financial performance around, and significant progress has been made to date. The credit union's financial rating was recently upgraded to a "3-star health rating," with 5 as the highest, as a result of restoring reserve levels and other measures. He emphasized that the credit union's charter is to help individuals of low to moderate income in Grant and Luna Counties, with a focus on personal loans. The credit union is not in the business of competing with local banks for mortgages or commercial loans.
Shaver then switched hats to discuss his and his wife's experience as owners of The Hip Store in historic downtown Silver City. He stated that Silver City and Grant County possess tremendous selling points to people relocating to the area, as well as to tourists, most notably the Gila National Forest and WNMU. He emphasized that these advantages need to be "packaged right" and marketed to the right audiences, in spite of those community members who do not want to see the area grow.
Shaver went on to explain that there are also significant deterrents to downtown growth, specifically: lack of downtown parking, particularly if the Silco Theater is to become a viable movie house venue; and a noxious vagrant factor that is a major problem in Silver City's downtown area. He pointed out that if tourists (especially those with children) are shopping downtown and encounter an indigent homeless person loitering in a shop doorway, urinating on a building, dealing drugs, or begging money, they will not come back to Silver City.
Shaver's remarks regarding the homeless population sparked considerable commentary from the group. Dr. Joseph Shepard, President of WNMU, stated that the University is losing prospective students and faculty as a result of encountering such situations downtown. He recommended that local police get out of their patrol cars and onto the streets, either walking or riding bicycles, to address the vagrancy problem. Cissy McAndrew of the Green Chamber of Commerce noted that the police feel powerless because no one arrested for vagrancy or drug dealing goes to trial. The group as a whole expressed a need to find a solution to this problem that has been the "elephant in the room" that no one in local government wants to address.
After Shaver's presentation, Garcia introduced Lee Gruber, owner of Syzygy Tileworks and Director of the Silver City Clay Festival, to give a report on the 2013 Clay Festival. Gruber stated that, after the success of the 2012 event, she sees the Clay Festival as a "long distance runner" and major player in the economic development of Silver City, Grant County, and the state of New Mexico. She announced that this year's event would be significantly expanded to last eight days, July 27 through August 4, 2013. She further explained that the Festival events would extend throughout the surrounding region – from downtown to the Mining District, to the Mimbres Valley, to Lake Roberts, to the Cliff Dwellings, and as far as Whitewater Mesa – involving local businesses who will benefit financially from these events. She urged local businesses to stay open on the Sundays of the event, so that visitors have somewhere to go locally to eat and shop. She also pointed out that businesses could leverage the theme of the Clay Festival in their own business and display windows, showing items related to clay or made of clay.
Discussion regarding downtown businesses staying open on Sundays and Mondays followed Gruber's presentation. Tre Rosat Café's owners, King Crowder and Lyla Adrienne, committed to being open for brunch on the Sundays of the Clay Festival. There were numerous comments from the group about the need for local galleries and restaurants to band together and stay open on Sundays and Mondays to make the historic downtown attractive to tourists to stay for the weekend.
Following Gruber's presentation, there were several announcements from the attendees:
- Joe Saenz, owner of WolfHorse Outfitters, announced that the Apache Red Paint PowWow has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. He stated that, as hard as they tried to make it work, it has failed due to lack of support.
- On June 28, there will be tours of Silver City for prospective WNMU students, starting at the Visitor Center. Businesses were urged to participate in the student discount program and to prominently display discounts to students.
- On June 30 at 6 pm at Alotta Gelato, WNMU will be hosting Social Media Day in Silver City.
- On July 6, from 10 am to 2 pm, there will be a dedication of the Habitat for Humanity house for the Hernandez family.
Lastly, Garcia announced that the next meeting will be held on July 19, 2013 and adjourned the meeting.