The new manager of Montrose’s Downtown Development Authority brings an impressive mixture of intelligence, experience, charm, and enthusiasm to her job.
Sonia Dumas displayed those qualities at a recent Wednesday morning meeting of The Forum at Heidi’s Deli, in Montrose.
Dumas was hired in September, and has been negotiating a steep learning curve ever since. “It’s been a baptism by fire. Drinking through the fire house,” she laughed. Even so, she has enjoyed the process, and getting to know the people of Montrose.
Dumas is originally from the San Francisco Bay area, and has spent most of her 12-year career working in hospitality development in Los Angeles. “It was usually four and five-star hotels. I’ve worked with big groups and big budgets, to revitalize a block or one particular building. So, working with the DDA, with almost a mile of businesses and real estate, is different for me.
“My favorite project was the Hotel Bel Aire, in Los Angeles. That’s a five-star property. My first budget with this was about $3 million, and we worked with chef Wolfgang Puck.”
One of her least favorite jobs was a $13 million project that kept her in Las Vegas for a year. “I’d never go back,” she laughed. “The Kim Kardashians of the world were their audience.”
Dumas also worked on a luxurious billion-dollar development in Miami, where she managed a $15 million budget.
Obviously, she won’t have nearly as much money to work with at the DDA. So, she and the DDA board are working hard to do what they can with what they have. That means a lot of “out of the box” thinking.
In 2012, as downtown Montrose struggled to recover from the Great Recession, DDA developed its Plan of Development, a flexible strategic “repository of work” designed to help turn downtown into“an attractive, vibrant place where people
converge, businesses thrive, and values rise.”(http://comontrose3.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/1184).
Dumas told the audience, “We took that document (from 2012) and really pared it down to understand where we’re at today, and where we’re heading as a district and a community. It boils down to enhancing, elevating, and advocating downtown Montrose.”
The first question that needs to be answered, she said, is how to enhance the qualities that downtown already has. “It’s easy to say ‘let’s get $20 million, bulldoze the place, and make it what we all really want it to be.’ Well that’s just not going to happen. So, how do you take what you have and make it better, take it to the next level?”
The second question Dumas and her board are trying to answer is “How do you create an experience that resonates with the community that you are trying to serve? How do we always create an elevated experience for the community?”
And, the DDA is looking for effective ways to speak up for downtown. “Downtown businesses pay into the DDA, so we need to be the voice of downtown, making sure that the stakeholders are heard and that someone is advocating their causes,” Dumas explained. However, there is only so much that she and the DDA board can do, so they are partnering with the city, the county, non-profits, developers, and entrepreneurs.
DDA is concentrating on three primary aspects of downtown life: business, vitality, and culture. “We’re looking at what makes businesses vital, and how to enhance the culture that already exists. It’s not necessarily about creating a new culture,” Dumas said. To build on that, DDA is looking at infrastructure and transportation issues affecting downtown.
She’s also focusing her considerable energy on branding, advertising, and promoting downtown to make the community aware of current and future events. Dumas believes downtown would benefit from a Master Plan with a holistic approach to the area.
Of course, funding is vital, so DDA is on the lookout for grants and other ways of maximizing its finances.
Naturally, community participation will be one of the keys to success, so Dumas is speaking to groups and individuals who have ideas for downtown revitalization.
The DDA is located in the Montrose County Administration Building, 317 S. 2nd St.
For online information about the DDA, please visit https://www.cityofmontrose.org/460/Downtown-Development-Authority.
You can also get a variety of information about downtown Montrose itself at http://www.montrosedowntown.com/.