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Many favor merger of 2 Auburn business groups

By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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With so many different groups seeking Auburn City funds, Ty Rowe, president of the Old Town Business Association, sees a better way. Members of the Old Town Business Association and the Downtown Business Association, headed by Rebecca Toedter, have met three times now with the goal of a possible merger. Realtor Gary Capps has played a key role in facilitating the process. “Everything is in the talking stage right now,” Rowe said Friday. “We’re trying to sketch out something where we can work together. We don’t know if it’s going to be one organization yet. Some people would like to see that.” More than 100 business owners from Downtown Auburn and Old Town gathered at the Masonic Hall Tuesday for a “mixer.” Mayor Mike Holmes, City Manager Bob Richardson and City Council members all attended. When a hand vote was requested to see if anyone objected to the merger, no one raised his or her hand, Toedter said. “No one objected to it at the meeting,” Toedter said. “That’s why we called for a raise-your-hand vote. Our objectives as business owners are all the same in wanting to gain more revenue, more exposure and getting more people to come here from out of town.” Lynn and Ross Carpenter, owners of Serendipity in Old Town, did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Lynn Carpenter favors an organization to bridge the gap rather than a merger of the two groups. “There are day-to-day specifics and their projects are different from ours,” Carpenter said about the Downtown Business Association. In May of 2000, her husband Ross helped start the Historic Auburn Business Alliance, which lasted about two years, he said. The Old Town Business Association has 128 members and the Downtown Business Association has 450 members. Business representatives, who attended the “Economic Summit” at City Hall last Tuesday, pointed out the need to advertise Auburn as a place to visit. Smaller businesses currently cannot afford expensive advertising, but could benefit from a visitor’s guide if one is created. Adam Baker, manager of Awful Annie’s in Old Town supports a merger. “I think it would be a great idea,” he said. “We picked up for the holiday season, but 2008 was the slowest for us in 10 years. We’ve had to cut down on payroll and order appropriately.” Gale Freeman, owner of the Mahogany store in Old Town, also favors the merger. “I think it would be wonderful to work with them on many ideas,” Freeman said. “I think we could learn a lot from them.” Freeman also cited the lack of sufficient parking in Auburn, which negatively affects businesses. Rowe is convinced of the advantages of merging with the Downtown Business Association. “This would allow us to do the same thing but on a bigger playing field,” Rowe said. “We could bring more people into the city. When you have all of these organizations coming to hit up the city, it’s meager pickings. Right now we all end up with little ads.” Both business organizations have their own by-laws and their budgets go through the City Council, Rowe said. If any future merger takes place, the new organization would have to go through the City Council for approval. A newly formed, larger organization could accomplish more, according to Rowe. Ballots are in the process of being created for both business associations to vote on a merger. “As one collective unit we could afford to get out into the big market,” Rowe said. “I don’t see why we can’t do this on a day-to-day basis, because we already work together on the big events like the Black & White Ball.” Toedter, president of the Downtown Business Association, agrees. “Rather than competing against each other, it makes more sense to unite and compete with the larger markets around us,” Toedter said.