Too Many Civic Groups Spoil The ‘Hood?

BUSINESS AND CITIZENS INTEREST GROUPS ABOUND IN WHEAT RIDGE such as Localworks, the Wheat Ridge Chamber of Commerce, Wheat Ridge Art League and the Active Transportation Advisory Team. However, some wonder if there is too much overlap and if the use of city tax money to help the groups is a good practice. PHOTO COLLAGE BY NEIGHBORHOOD GAZETTE

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Residents, business owners and others with specific interests have a good chance of finding a group of like-minded people in and around Wheat Ridge. However, some wonder if there may be a few too many citizen groups with the same or similar goals, and if they receive tax money to help them operate, is that a good use of those funds.

A non-inclusive list of groups includes the Wheat Ridge Chamber of Commerce, Wheat Ridge Business Association, Localworks, Applewood Business Association, West Metro Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Wheat Ridge, the Wheat Ridge Active Transportation Advisory Team, Wheat Ridge Art League, Wheat Ridge Creates and the Wheat Ridge Cultural Committee. And that doesn’t include service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis.

Playing In The Same Sandbox

Tadd Overstreet, owner of Stylus & Crate Coffee Shop, 6985 W. 38th Ave., said he was “amazed at the great support” for business-related groups. “There’s obviously tons of support for these groups and they work well together, but I would think there’s a lot of overlap,” he stated. “I wouldn’t say I would like to see these groups merge or combine, as they all seem to have their own niches and strengths. And I’m not trying to push anything through.”

Having several groups to consider joining is a challenge for a business owner, Overstreet added. With all the groups but Localworks seeking paid memberships, it can get expensive for a small business, he said. “I don’t have a solution, but for any small business, I would say if you’re not involved in at least some of these groups, you should be,” he said. “If you want to be successful.”

When he opened Stylus & Crate, Overstreet said each business group reached out “to make sure we were successful, so I was willing to join.” “I think this is something we’re really fortunate to have in Wheat Ridge, but it becomes a little overwhelming at times,” he added. “It’s like they’re all playing in the same sandbox.”

Chamber of Commerce president Dominick Breton noted his group works closely with Localworks and the business association. “I think being active in a lot of things helps you meet a lot of people,” he added. “And some people may decide to go with this one or that one, a different fit for different folks.”

While Breton admitted there may be some areas of overlap between the chamber and business association, “It’s important to be able to work with others,” he added. “We do some things differently, too, like hold monthly luncheons while the business association holds monthly breakfasts. I just think having people work together is a good thing. But I can see where it does seem competitive, doesn’t it?”

Kate Cooke, executive director of Localworks, said her group helps “fit the puzzle” of connecting residents and businesses, while other business groups focus on other areas. Localworks organizes events and activities with a goal of “economic vitality, not just economic development,” Cooke noted. Examples are loan programs, community leadership and education programs such as Wheat Ridge 101, where residents learn how the city functions and how to help bring about change, she said. “The business association and chamber are more involved in business-to-business networking to help grow individual businesses,” Cooke added. “We’re all trying to promote Wheat Ridge as a cool place to live, work and play.”

Cooke, who also sits on the board of directors for both business associations, said while Localworks is the only one of the business groups to not charge a membership fee, they do receive city funds, along with grants and money from other sources.

Collaboration Helps Groups Reach Out

Art League spokeswoman Alex Hinst said her group collaborates with other arts-related groups. The recent Wheat Ridge Art Drop is a good example, she said. “The cultural commission paid for our artwork and then hid them around the community for several days, with photos and clues to find them posted (online),” Hinst explained. “If someone found it, they got to keep it. So we were really happy to collaborate and help raise awareness of what we thought were some neat things.”

Hinst said she hasn’t heard of any competitiveness between the league and other groups, despite all of them seeking dues from members. “I think people think it’s really neat to join up, collaborate with others and bring more awareness about art and artists,” she added.

The Active Transportation Advisory Team is an informal citizen-led organization that works on increased opportunities to walk, bicycle and connect with transit in Wheat Ridge. David Kueter — along with fellow “Imperial Officers” Jenny Snell, Mark De La Torre and Kelly Blynn — heads the small group. It is an offshoot of the statewide LiveWell Colorado program and began operating in 2014, Kueter said. “We get a handful of donations, but most of our money comes from the city’s outside groups funding,” Kueter said.

City figures show the group received $1,000 this year and were recommended to receive the same amount for next year. The group does not charge membership fees, he added, and the Wheat Ridge Community Foundation allows them to use the foundation’s tax-exempt designation to help raise funds as well, a foundation spokeswoman said. “We’re a very grassroots group,” Kueter added. He noted the group works with Localworks on the monthly Cruiser Rides around the city and hoped to hold a Ride for Reading drive, where donated books are delivered by bike to Title I schools.

How Community Groups Get City Funding

Citizen groups, nonprofit agencies and other qualified groups in the Wheat Ridge vicinity can request city funds in two ways as part of the city budget process. Director of Administrative Services Allison Scheck said partner agencies, such as Localworks, the Carnation Festival and Wheat Ridge Business District, were among new requests to be presented to the city council on Aug. 16. Scheck noted the council approved $75,000 for this year’s Carnation Festival. The 2020 event was canceled due to the pandemic and did not receive any city funds. The business district, which focuses on things like business facade improvement loans, was given $90,000 for 2021, Scheck added.

She also noted some, such as Localworks, do not receive lump sums from the city. They submit invoices when needed and usually do not spend all allocated city funds. Localworks’ 2021 budget is $436,000 and the group has sought a lower amount for 2022, Scheck said.

Assistant to the City Manager Marianne Schilling said the outside agencies program’s citizen committee recently presented its 2022 funding recommendations after they reviewed applications and listened to presentations from 25 nonprofit organizations. The groups requested a total of $157,150, but the committee recommended the same amount as this year’s $133,800. Scheck said each group “has to be involved in some shape or form with our community and be what we think are ‘show up’ partners.” The outside agency program also reviews each applicant’s funding sources, but Scheck said if they have similar sources, it will not necessarily cause their request to be denied.

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