HANFORD — The fate of downtown has always been a hot button issue in Hanford; where the downtown preservationists battle those with an “out with the old, in with the new” attitude.
Main Street Hanford wants to bring those two ideas together, which is why they held a “Transform Downtown Hanford” community meeting on Monday.
Specifically, the meeting was held to discuss downtown revitalization and if Direct Public Offerings, or DPOs, are a viable option to raise capital for downtown projects.
DPOs give everyone the opportunity to invest in their community. The idea is that rather than waiting for our historic buildings to be renovated, community members can be empowered to raise funds and invest in downtown revitalization themselves.
Michelle Brown, interim executive director of Main Street Hanford, said the organization wanted to have the meeting after the recent Hanford City Council decision to demolish the old fire station 404 W. Lacey Blvd.
The old fire station has been vacant for several years and the city wants to use the land for an expanded parking area for the Plunge swimming pool and other recreational activities.
“We’re concerned about our treasured, historic buildings in downtown Hanford and we want to do what we can to impact the economic vitality in downtown Hanford,” Brown said.
Brown said the organization believes that by restoring buildings and bringing new businesses into those buildings, people will want to visit Hanford more often and will contribute to a thriving downtown area.
Main Street Hanford invited speakers Craig Scharton, CEO of Downtown Fresno Partnership, and John Katovich, founder and president of Cutting Edge Counsel.
Scharton was Main Street Hanford’s first executive director and has been leading the cause of downtown revitalization for over 30 years.
Scharton said Hanford has a special downtown that has a lot of character and different strengths, like Superior Dairy and China Alley.
“You have a downtown that is the envy of the Central Valley,” Scharton said. “It’s really fantastic.”
The key to maintaining a vibrant downtown is building on those strengths, Scharton told the crowd of about 70 people who attended the meeting.
In his experience with DPOs, Scharton said it’s the small- to medium-sized cities that he believes have better outcomes because the communities are more tight-knit and focused on a common goal rather than larger cities.
As far as the old fire station is concerned, Scharton said the easiest solution would be to let a microbrewery occupy the space and keep it open at night for people to gather downtown.
Katovich spent time discussing different communities who used DPOs successfully and answered questions about how the process could work for Hanford.
Katovich said every offering is different, so if Hanford was to move forward with the idea, it would cater to the community’s and investor's needs and wants. He also said knowing the community and marketing to it is an important factor in the process.
“This is not like buying stock in Apple or Facebook,” Katovich said. “This is about investing in your community.”
Brown said Main Street Hanford and its board would meet with Scharton and Katovich again to talk about what the next steps would be to get a DPO set up for Hanford.
“I truly believe that if we have these historic buildings and we have businesses within them that are bringing people downtown, our downtown should and could be better than all of the surrounding downtowns,” Brown said.