Downtown Business Council by Penn Yan
Organized in mid-2021, the Downtown Business Council of Penn Yan (DBC) consists of approximately 30 downtown business or restaurant owners, several nonprofit organizations and 30 committed Yates County citizens. DBC’s mission is to “create a vibrant downtown business community by identifying and nurturing business opportunities and increasing commerce within the Penn Yan Village by sharing common interests among downtown business owners, liaisons and volunteers to achieve success.” and ensure sustainability and growth.” One way to showcase all that our village has to offer is by hosting large public gatherings and attracting Yates County residents and visitors to events like Trunk or Treat, the Fall Festival or Wing Walk .
We run First Friday themes every month throughout the year where we feature a local non-profit organization that is raising funds to support them. We survey our companies after every major event and are pleased that most report increased profits during our events. Our members work entirely on a volunteer basis, and while we have many plans and projects in the pipeline, our meager budget doesn’t allow us to do everything we put our minds to.
At a Penn Yan village board meeting last fall, county legislator Dan Banach, representing the city of Milo, stated: “The county has money; all you have to do is ask.’ So the DBC decided to do just that.
Last spring we were informed by the village of Penn Yan that from 2023 it would begin charging organizations for services related to major downtown events that require road closures, fire brigades, traffic control, law enforcement, etc. The proposed fee per event is approximately $2,300, which seemed reasonable. Because our budget is very tight, we have petitioned the Yates County Legislature to provide these Village expenses as reimbursement to us in their 2023 budget. At the same time, the DBC applied to the Tourism Advisory Committee (TAC), a subcommittee of the Legislature, for 2023 funding to fund our established events as well as new events such as a Winter Ice Festival. These TAC monies represent tourism tax monies that are allocated to those applicants believed to be most likely to increase tourism in the county over the course of the following year.
Last year’s Trunk or Treat had about 600 participants; this year we estimated that there were three times as many people in downtown Penn Yan as there were on October 22nd. Last year’s Fall Festival brought 1,800 visitors, not only residents but visitors from across New York State and five other states; Downtown businesses reported record sales. Wing Walk 2022 sold 500 tickets, and while the competition kicked off at midday, contestants lingered in Penn Yan’s bars and restaurants well into the evening. There is no doubt that our events have brought in sales tax to the county and many people said they would be staying here all weekend.
During the October meeting of the Finance Committee at the Legislature, TAC members recommended that $559,000 for the tourism tax be awarded to five organizations with 11 proposals. Seven of the 10 TAC members are affiliated with four of the five recipients of these TAC grants totaling $480,000. The DBC was completely denied. However, we were pleased when the Legislature did not approve the TAC recommendations, opting instead to examine the awards more closely ahead of the next Finance Committee meeting on 8 November.
At the Legislative Budget meeting on October 25, the DBC’s request for reimbursement of village event expenses was discussed. Statements were made that were misleading and confusing. Although the DBC is a subcommittee of the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber does not provide any financial support to the DBC. However, it was noted that the Chamber finds it “commercially difficult”. [for the Chamber] to continue this relationship with the DBC.’ The DBC will pay the Chamber $175 per event for insurance coverage; we pay the chamber for social media promotion for our events; and we paid the Chamber $600 in administrative fees for the sale of Wing Walk tickets. We were relieved when the Legislature submitted further discussion of our motion pending clarification.
It is extremely disheartening for a group of Yates County citizens and businesses who are so highly motivated to improve and improve our village when they encounter such rejection when seeking financial help. We hope that the Legislature will carefully reconsider the allocation of taxpayer dollars to efforts that so clearly benefit Yates residents and entice visitors to return and enjoy all that Penn Yan has to offer. We invite lawmakers, chamber members and everyone who shares our vision to our events and our weekly meetings, which take place on Wednesdays at 9am at the Keuka Candy Emporium. And if you agree that our mission deserves some attention, please reach out to your lawmakers and let them know.