- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

The DC Marketing Center is in full force again.
The public-private partnership, founded in October 1998, has gone through a wave of changes almost becoming nonexistent last year before Michael G. Stevens was hired as the new president in July.
After months of reorganizing, hiring a staff, getting the board of directors in place, building relationships and networks with organizations and city departments, preparing new slick marketing materials, the DC Marketing Center is back on track.
"I think it had gone through a period of dormancy," says Mr. Stevens, a former city planning guru in Memphis, Tenn.; Dallas; and Jackson, Miss. "There was much interest in the Marketing Center but there just wasn't a lot of horsepower to do all the things that people envisioned it should be doing."
The organization, which currently has four full-time members, acts as a liaison between the city and any group from the office and commercial sector to retail and hospitality that wants to have a presence in the District.
"We want to be a one-stop information shop for prospects, area brokers, D.C. government for anyone who's thinking about moving into the District," he says.
Mr. Stevens, an enthusiastic cheerleader for city life, says he has been following Washington's development and its woes for more than 20 years.
"Washington is one of the most beautiful cities in the world," says the 46-year-old Jackson, Miss., native. "But like any city it has warts."
Mr. Stevens and his team are still up against heavy misconceptions about the District's quality of life, high crime rates and a non-business-friendly environment.
"We want to try to dispel all those lingering myths … that at some point may have had truth to them," Mr. Stevens says. "We want to present the case of the reality of the District."
Like any city, Washington has gone through a period of decline, but finally businesses are taking notice of the city, Mr. Stevens says.
The city's current wave of development is in evidence. About $10 billion in development projects were recently completed, are under construction or in the pipeline in the city. About 60 percent of the several million square feet of office space under construction in the city is already leased, Mr. Stevens says.
"There is the sense that the District has turned a corner and is headed in the right direction," he adds.

Marketing mission

The Marketing Center, which is a part of the DC Chamber of Commerce, is responsible for marketing and promoting the city, helping to attract and retain business, as well as disseminating information about the city to decision makers.
"We help connect the dots for the people who ultimately do make the decisions," Mr. Stevens says. "At the end of the day we're not responsible for closing those deals. We are really development facilitators."
The Marketing Center is a necessity for the District, says Richard Monteilh, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.
"When you've got cities competing with us, [not having an organization like the Marketing Center] would put the District at a huge disadvantage," he says. "Businesses like to be wooed. And if we have someone selling it … I think we can be competitive."
The center helps ease businesses' concerns like parking or affordable housing issues to help sell the city.
"A lot of [our job] is educating people on what exists in the city," says Chris Knudson, vice president for communications and information systems, who worked with Mr. Stevens in Memphis. "It's putting them in touch with the people who can answer their questions. We help people navigate through the District government."
Because most of the center's job is marketing, Mr. Stevens may not see results of the center's efforts for months or years from the first contact with a potential deal maker.
"The fruits of our labors are seen 12 to 24 months down the road," Mr. Knudson says.
The Marketing Center is a public-private partnership which is currently considered part of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. The Center is in the process of filing for nonprofit status, which would make it a separate entity. In addition to the D.C. government, the Center's private sector partners include Verizon, Geico, Pepco, Fannie Mae, the D.C. Building Industry Association and the D.C. Chamber.
The District contributes the lion's share of the Marketing Center's $1.2 million budget.
He says one of the most challenging parts of the job is meeting expectations people have of the center with a tight budget.
"It's a challenge of managing resources and multiple stake holders," he says.
In an ideal world Mr. Stevens would want to work with a $3 million to $5 million budget but for now is taking what the center can get.

Retail push

While the marketing center works with many different companies and industries, the focus in the District has been on retail a big part of Mayor Anthony A. Williams' aggressive economic development initiative.
"Right now the emphasis is on retail because I think everyone realizes the District has been historically underserved and the neighborhoods are clamoring for retail and its starting to occur downtown," Mr. Stevens says. "And rather than wait for a ripple effect [we're getting] proactive."
Mr. Stevens was part of a delegation of D.C. officials who went to the annual International Council of Shopping Centers Spring Convention in Las Vegas last month a chance to showcase the District to retailers and developers looking to move into the area. City officials, including Mayor Williams and Deputy Mayor Eric Price armed with slick new marketing materials highlighting 15 neighborhoods in the District had more than 22 meetings with retailers and developers during the three-day conference.
Retailers like Kmart, Target, Wal-Mart, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Ames, Home Depot and Burlington Coat Factory have all shown an interest in moving into or expanding in the District, say real estate officials.
Focusing on retail is a "logical economic development policy," says Mr. Stevens. "It creates jobs. It creates sales tax and allows your consumer dollars to stay in the District and not leak out to other municipalities."
The D.C. government, along with the DC Marketing Center, is co-sponsoring a new study by D.C.-based Social Compact which will look at two neighborhoods Columbia Heights and Anacostia to identify how much money is leaving the District and spent in other jurisdictions.
"There's million of dollars of disposable income that people are spending on a daily and weekly basis but they have to go to Virginia or Maryland to do it," Mr. Stevens says.
The study, due out in September, will be a powerful marketing tool, Mr. Stevens says.
He hopes within a year or two to have this kind of detailed information on a number of neighborhoods within the city to be used to market the city more effectively.

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