Members of Main Street Steamboat Springs hope to distill the essence of downtown into a catchy phrase and a trademark that has the ability to stand the test of time. But before they choose a brand image for the city's downtown shopping district, they'll get help from university graduate students and a wide variety of community organizations.
"If we're to succeed at doing this on our own, it will depend on the creativity and energy of this group," brand committee chairman Towny Anderson said. "We'll have to manage it very well, or it will fall apart."
Main Street Steamboat represents the local chapter of a process tested in hundreds of communities nationwide. Main Street projects are intended to reinvigorate and raise the effectiveness of downtown shopping districts. Main Street projects have been used for decades to establish public and private partnerships to organize and manage retail districts, consultant Kent Burnes said during a recent speaking engagement in Steamboat.
Main Street projects are divided into four main areas of effort including organization, promotion, design and economic restructuring. The branding committee is part of the larger promotion effort. It's meant to create meaningful symbols that define Main Street Steamboat.
The city of Steamboat Springs' distinctive cowboy spur and snowflake logo helps to define a brand for city government; Main Street Steamboat wants to achieve similar brand recognition.
Committee member Tracy Barnett of Mazzola's restaurant urged her colleagues to keep in mind that the new brand for the downtown shopping district must serve the overall mission statement of Main Street Steamboat.
"We wanted to make downtown valuable to the locals," Barnett said. "They think downtown is not for them. We're trying to change that."
Main Street participants expect that when residents know downtown Steamboat as the place to shop, dine and recreate, visitors will follow naturally.
Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. marketing executive Andy Wirth said many successful branding efforts begin with research about consumer preferences rather than relying on emotional impressions. Given the committee's limited budget, he suggested enticing a business college marketing class to undertake the research as a project.
Wirth cautioned that downtown business owners must be prepared to receive some criticism.
"We have to be prepared for that scary monster that exists out there if we survey locals and ask them," how they feel about the downtown experience, Wirth said. "If we're able to stare that scary monster in the face, we might find out that they have issues about prices, service, and you're not open when they want to shop."
Jerry Kozatch of Ambiente pointed to the attachment Routt County residents have to the slopes of Mount Werner. Downtown Steamboat needs to find a way to replicate that bond, he said.
"Locals think of themselves as owning the ski trails on the mountain, as opposed to whoever actually owns the facility," Kozatch said. "We need to encourage that kind of thing. People who have lived here for a long time really own the downtown, as opposed to store and business owners. There's got to be a feeling (that) 'this is my special place.'"
Residents need to feel the same way about the experience of having coffee at Mocha Molly's as they do about their fishing hole, he said.
Committee member Lyman Orton wrote in an e-mail that the committee must take into account years of branding undertaken by the ski area, and he would like to see Main Street Steamboat take the identification with "Western heritage" to a new level.
"Is it not time for the entire business community, led by Main Street Steamboat Springs, to recognize the importance of ranching and Western heritage to business success?" Orton asked.
He suggested the committee's work might be based on the statement: "Our future success is tied to the reality of ranching and Western heritage, yet these two practices are declining at an alarming rate. We must support with finances and work a serious effort to turn this around and assure long-term viability of making a living by the stewards of these practices, ranching families. Assuring the continuation of ranching and our Western heritage is just as important to the business community as assuring airline service.
"If the business community does not drive this signpost into the ground now, and lead the entire town toward this end, Steamboat Springs will become an entirely different place in the very near future."
The branding committee accepted Wirth's offer to approach the business schools at leading Colorado universities to determine their interest in undertaking research to support Main Street Steamboat's brand effort. Jayne Hill said she would talk to Colorado Mountain College and Steamboat Springs High School.
The committee will wait until it learns the results of their efforts before contacting community groups for their take on the branding process.
The branding committee is tentatively set to meet again 7:30 a.m. Sept. 9 at the Utterback Annex of the Tread of Pioneers Museum.
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