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We knew back in September that the MidCity Arts District branding process wasn’t going over very well: Artists and businesses felt like they were being branded by a small clutch of neighborhood activists, rather than participating in an organic process that they chose. Part of the discomfort was the fact that the MidCity Business Association thought Councilmember Jack Evans‘ office had supported the $200,000 grant thinking that it would be going at least in part to their organization, when in fact the MidCity Residents Association would be in control of the funds.
Today, TBD’s Sommer Mathis treats us to the whole sordid story. The worst part: The MidCity Business Association has had to lay off its executive director Natalie Avery, who has been donating much of her time to the small association, and making strides with things like trash pickup and special events. Is it Carol Felix and Andrea Doughty‘s fault? Not directly, and I don’t believe intentionally—the MCBA hoped to secure other funding through the Department of Small and Local Business Development, and the earmark ban just made that pretty much impossible. But the consequences of giving the kind of money to a branding initiative that only parts of the neighborhood really want, when it could have instead sustained an ambitious local group for another four years, are pretty disheartening.
As far as the “conflict/confluence of interest” that TBD earlier raised, I’d say it’s more of a difference in philosophy for the corridor than pure self-interest. Felix, whose husband Wayne Dickson is one of the area’s primary commercial real estate brokers, thinks 14th Street needs a brand to bring in more outside investment. In a hearing on the zoning text amendment that would lift the cap on bars and restaurants within the ARTS Overlay, Dickson even expressed the opinion that the neighborhood couldn’t really support soft goods in the online-shopping era, and the only way to pay high rents was to have a liquor license. That rankles the MCBA people, who think the city should instead be investing the existing local retail scene, to keep it vibrant and diverse.
Anyway, what’s done is done, and the branding initiative grinds on: Proposals have been submitted for the street banners, and the winners will be unveiled November 1st. Meanwhile, you can still vote on what you think the Arts District’s name should be. The current leader? The Mid City Arts District—exactly what Felix said should probably be ruled out.