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Businesses owners say they need a little help from the city to
transform Downtown Gilroy into a vibrant destination. Eric Howard,
president of the Downtown Business Association, said downtown needs
a city funded executive director to lighten the load on shop owners
who volunteer time aside from running their own businesses to
promote the area and plan events.
Businesses owners say they need a little help from the city to transform Downtown Gilroy into a vibrant destination.

Eric Howard, president of the Downtown Business Association, said downtown needs a city funded executive director to lighten the load on shop owners who volunteer time aside from running their own businesses to promote the area and plan events.

During the Gilroy City Council’s annual goal-setting session Jan. 29, Howard made a pitch to city officials: Give the business association $20,000 a year during the next two years to help fund the part-time executive director position.

“How can we advocate for downtown when we’re working and running our businesses and not able to get away?” Howard asked Thursday.

An executive director would help build on the events it already hosts while spearheading new ones, Howard said.

With a May 14 Downtown Wine Stroll and the 10th annual Garlic City Fun Run scheduled for June 25, plans are also in the mix for a farmers market slated for June 5.

Howard said the organization’s board of directors will form a subcommittee with the sole function of creating a job description and nailing down any questions related to the executive director position. The subcommittee will be appointed Monday during the business association board’s retreat.

The need for a downtown executive director is nothing new, Howard said.

“We’ve been talking about it for years,” he said. “It’s very important. We’re never going to grow. Volunteers come and go, and you’ll never have consistency without that position.”

Discovery Gilroy, a citywide survey that gauges residents and visitors thoughts on the city, revealed some people don’t venture downtown because they feel it’s either unsafe or unclean, or there isn’t much in the way of entertainment or events.

Howard’s request to the city stood as of Thursday, with no word yet on how soon or how likely the position would be approved.

“No timeline yet,” Howard said. “We’re waiting to hear back from the city.”

The city is waiting to see how funding the position would fit into its next budget, which must be finalized by June 30, Mayor Al Pinheiro said

Pinheiro said the Gilroy City Council would discuss the Downtown Business Association’s request – along with funding requests from other city organizations – during open budget meetings prior to that deadline.

“We’ll see where it lies in all our priorities,” he said.

On Monday, Council members met with representatives of the Gilroy Economic Development Corporation to discuss whether the city would be willing to fund as much as $180,000 of the EDC’s $200,000-plus budget.

What the Downtown Business Association, EDC or any group receives will depend on how much the city feels comfortable spending, Pinheiro said.

“It’s all been about funding,” he said. “That’s still what the discussion is going to be.”

Pinheiro said City Administrator Tom Haglund “was aware of some of the requests” from the business association and the EDC. Haglund could not be reached as of press time.

Councilman Peter Leroe-Muñoz said downtown needed a paid director to facilitate events and attract people and businesses to the area.

“It would be nice to have a position to kind of coordinate that,” he said. “I think its definitely something that’s needed within Gilroy.”

Gary Walton, local developer and downtown property owner, said the business association shouldn’t stop at hiring a part-time executive director. He said hiring a full-time position was “imperative.”

Without a full-time executive director or financial support from the city, Gilroy could continue to have what some consider the most lackluster downtown in Santa Clara County, Walton said.

“The vast majority of citizens want downtown to thrive,” he said. “No one likes to be last.”

Howard, however, said downtown needed to start small.

“I figured, baby steps,” he said. “Prove to the city how useful the position will be. Then, they’d be crazy not to (fund a full-time position).”

For now, Howard said he wouldn’t predict just what the position would entail. He said the executive director probably would need to be able to coordinate events and communicate with downtown’s prevalent Hispanic businesses.

“It depends on how we structure it,” he said. “We’ll wait to see what the subcommittee recommends.”

Whatever form the executive director position takes, it’s going to be synonymous with downtown itself, Howard said.

“I want someone who is going to be the face of downtown,” he said.

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