(From left) Incoming Alton Main Street President Debby Edelman holds a gavel with AMS Executive Director Sara McGibany and Stacy Noble Loveland, holding a plaque she received recognizing her work as outgoing AMS board president. The organization and its board met Thursday for its monthly meeting.
ALTON — Alton Main Street can claim a number of high notes in 2015, despite a mid-year financial crisis and a December flood downtown.
January brought eagle-watching events that drew visitors from around the country, the Miles Davis statue was unveiled in April and the long-awaited Grassroots Grocery opened its doors in October. Along the way, new businesses such as Wild Hare Emporium and Morrison’s Pub settled in downtown.
AMS board members and business partners met Thursday at Elijah P’s Burgers and Brews for a board president hand-off and a recap of 2015. It also was an opportunity for the organization to make note of its own changes as it turns 20 this year.
“We’ve come leaps and bounds from 1996 when we first started,” Executive Director Sara McGibany said. “We’ve evolved over the past 10 years. It was only five years ago that we rebranded. Before that, we were known as ‘the block party group’ or ‘the Farmers’ Market group.’”
McGibany said it was a tribute to how far AMS had come when she recently kept an appointment and the woman behind the desk asked how downtown Alton was holding up with the flood.
“It warms my heart,” she said. “People associate us with downtown now, not just one segment.”
Today, the organization focuses on beautification projects and promoting local businesses and cultural events that draw more than 25,000 people annually to shop, dine and be entertained in Downtown Alton. AMS also works to create alliances and strengthen partnerships with other like-minded organizations and groups.
One such alliance is with the Alton Regional Conventional and Visitors Bureau. McGibany called Brett Stawar, CVB’s executive director, Alton Main Street’s “knight in shining armor.”
When the city of Alton threatened to cut AMS out of its budget in June, CVB stepped forward to help, offering office space, staff support and other resources. After a petition was launched and signed by 1,400 people, the city voted to retain $7,000 in its budget for AMS.
McGibany said it takes about $50,000 for essential operating services such as wages, insurance, licenses and taxes. She is the only paid employee.
“We make big things happen on a very limited budget by using the power of volunteerism — 3,500 hours of free labor donated last year, to be exact,” she wrote in a June 24 Facebook post.
Stawar said despite “bad floods, a budget cut and tourism issues, there’s a silver lining here. We go into 2016 with a lot of pluses and negatives, but all in all there’s more of the positive.”
After three days of torrential rains in late December, downtown flooded, nearly reaching 1973 levels. That was an “eye-opening experience” for Joelle Shearin, Argosy Casino’s general manager, who moved to the area in August.
“It was a tough week but we’re open for business — all of us,” Shearin said. “We know people have a lot of options. They can go to Edwardsville, Grafton, St. Louis. We need to give them a reason to come to Alton.”
Outgoing board president Stacey Noble Loveland passed a wood gavel to incoming president Debby Edelman. Loveland was on the board in various capacities for six years.
“My wish is for my son — and all of our kids — to be proud to say, ‘I’m from Alton, Illinois.’ What a way to end my six years. We made it with smiles,” said Loveland, referencing the flood.
Edelman served on the AMS board as secretary in 1998, shortly after moving to Alton with her husband. She began to volunteer again for the organization in 2006 when she became the public relations director for Riverbend Head Start & Family Services.
“We have to nurture our community,” Edelman said. “That’s where that notion hit home for me. I look forward to a great 2016. We’re going to use SMART Goals to keep us focused and achieving the mission.”
Trivia Night sponsored by Parrotheads of the Riverbend
Doors open at 6 p.m., game starts at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5
Temple Banquet Facility, 300 State St., Alton
Tables of 8 for $120 can be purchased at www.downtownalton.com
Contact Kevin Hilligoff at (618) 410-8565 for more information