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Leading by Example 

Downtown Association's Chuck Arnold leaves a legacy

Walking down Franklin Avenue toward Drake Park, Chuck Arnold stops mid-stroll to pick up a scrap of paper littering the sidewalk. Affable, with an easy smile and a good-naturedly goofy sense of humor, Arnold has spent much of his nine years as executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association tending to these easily forgotten details.

"I think anybody that's involved in small, local business has to have an entrepreneurial spirit," he explains. "You really need to be able to roll up your sleeves, no task too small, nothing beneath you."

Arnold says that delegation is important too—he isn't personally collecting all of the rubbish in downtown Bend—but he sees his commitment to taking care of the little things as a point of leadership.

"It takes all of us to own downtown, and it belongs to all of us, so we have to step up and take care of it," he says. "So I'm leading by example in that regard."

And Arnold's leadership has not gone unnoticed.

He was recently recruited by the City of Redmond, and announced Tuesday he will leave the DBBA in July for a new job as that city's economic development and urban renewal coordinator. With the new position will come a broader range of responsibilities—including such economic drivers as the airport and fairgrounds, as well as downtown—and a budget many times larger.

Not that he needs it. Arnold knows a thing or two about getting by in tight times, and finding the resources he needs to get the job done. Just eight months into the job at the DBBA, a lawsuit filed before his arrival caused the association to lose its Economic Improvement District status—and most of its funding.

"That dropped us in January of 2007 to basically a $30,000 budget. I was figuring I'd probably have to start looking for another job," Arnold recalls. "But instead, I invited the people who brought the lawsuit to the table and said, 'How would this look if you were doing it?'"

Their primary concern: no one had ever asked for their input. By sitting down with stakeholders and listening to their concerns, Arnold was able to enough business and property owners on board to organize a new assessment district. Since then, that assessment district has been renewed three subsequent times, most recently passing with 100 percent approval—an impressive buy-in for a taxing district.

"That's important because that basically shows that as an association we've had the ability to unify people behind this idea, this scope of work, and getting things done," Arnold explains.

That scope of work includes everything from hand painting over graffiti and hanging flower baskets to coordinating large-scale events that bring thousands of people (and hundreds of dogs) to downtown, such as the Cascade Cycling Classic and Oktoberfest.

One of the most popular downtown events, the First Friday Art Walk, has seen strong growth under his leadership, going from a less-than-monthly affair to a "not-to-be-missed" event that Arnold says many retailers call "rent night" because it quite literally enables them to pay their rent.

But it's not those big to-dos that have presented the biggest challenge for Arnold and the association—which includes two part-time staff members. Rather, the less sexy behind-the-scenes work of maintaining downtown—whether manually or through lobbying city and other leaders for support and funds—is the hardest part. But it's also one of the most meaningful.

"I think that one of the bigger challenges is finding a way to make sure that the City keeps its focus on keeping downtown vibrant," he explains. "Striking that balance with the City, to make sure there are appropriate resources to maintain what the entire community is invested in, has been one of the biggest challenges, and nothing I wouldn't say with the City sitting right here. We have a very open dialogue."

And he's found ways to get the work done, regardless of resources. His list of accomplishments includes increasing the association's budget nearly ten-fold, from that woeful $30,000 to $279,000; bringing and sustaining landmarks including the flowers, banners, decorative skis, and bike racks; and personally working to fill vacancies to keep the downtown occupancy rate above 92 percent for the past five years.

"Keeping downtown well-maintained and watching out for some of the infrastructure—everything from street lamps to pavers to whatever—is really a response to the broken window theory," Arnold explains. "When urban renewal districts come in they work on projects, building something or creating something. The idea of making sure that something is then maintained in perpetuity is a big, big animal."

It's a job that requires a special combination of skills, and Arnold says he's hoping the upcoming national search will turn up a strong candidate. That's part of why he's sticking around through June, to ease the transition. It's also a tough job to walk away from.

The anticipation of what's to come feels a bit like awaiting the start of a new school year in a new city, he says, with its characteristic mix of excitement and anxiety.

"I do feel very invested," he admits, particularly with big projects like the proposed Mirror Pond-affiliated downtown redevelopment project still in flux. "It is with some sadness that I leave."

Still, downtown is a second home to Arnold, and since he and his family will continue to live in Bend, chances are good locals will still be able to spot the friendly face doing his part to keep downtown vibrant.

About The Author

Erin Rook

Erin is the Source Weekly's Associate Editor. Before moving to Bend in 2013, Erin worked as a writer and editor for publications in Portland including PQ Monthly and Just Out. He has also written for the Willamette Week, El Hispanic News, Travel Portland, OUT City, Boston magazine and the Taunton Daily Gazette...
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