The Short North gained a new leader in August as Betsy Pandora took the reigns as the Executive Director of The Short North Alliance. She’s only been on the job for two months, but she’s already involved in event planning, retail development, marketing, advocacy, parking policies and other important focus areas.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Betsy for an in depth interview recently, and the full transcript can be found below:
Walker Evans: So you’re two months on the job now. What the verdict so far?
Betsy Pandora: It’s been absolutely exciting. The time has flown by. This is our busy season here in the District with Highball Halloween rapidly approaching. And we just spent this morning having a really great conversation with retailers about promotions for the holiday season.
WE: Let’s rewind for a second to talk about the formation of the Short North Alliance. I know there’s been some confusion since everyone was very familiar with the Short North Business Association, which seemed to transition suddenly into the SNA. And there’s also the Short North Special Improvement District… can you explain to us what happened and how it all works?
BP: The Short North Alliance was formed out of a partnership between the Short North Business Association and the Short North Special Improvement District. The SNBA existed for many years within the District. We dissolved that in 2012. We went from being a 501c6 business association to a 501c3 charitable non-profit. We now have a direct partnership with the Short North Special Improvement District which is also a separate non-profit organization that collects a property assessment from property owners within a defined geographic boundary of the Short North. Those assessments are used to fund public improvements in the District, such as our clean and safe program and a full ambassador team that you’ll see walking around the District.
The ambassadors are our hospitality team, and they make sure the district is clean and safe. The Alliance has a direct relationship with the Special Improvement District to implement the service plan for the District. We really have this great role now, where we get to not only represent the businesses within the District, but we also represent the property owners, and residents who live within the commercial core of the District.
WE: What are the official boundaries? How deep does it go into the Italian and Victorian villages?
BP: The boundary of the Special Improvement District is King Avenue/7th Avenue to the North; Ohio Center Way to the South; then to the alleyways East and West. So Pearl Alley/Courtland/Mt. Pleasant on the East and Wall Street on the West for the most part. It’s really tied to just the High Street commercial corridor.
WE: But the number of residents on High Street is probably growing with new development, so it’s not just representing businesses anymore, right?
BP: Absolutely. We’ve seen such a mix of uses emerge along the High Street corridor that we really do represent that. Either condo owners or renters who live within the commercial core of the district. So we really serve as an advocate for that group and for the commercial core.
We do marketing and promotions and events like Gallery Hop, Highball Halloween, and our annual gala which celebrates successes in the district every year.
WE: What’s the role of the SNA in the balance between responding to the needs of the existing residents and businesses versus the advocacy and planning efforts for new development?
BP: We really just focus on the existing climate and environment here. We don’t do retail recruitment like the Capital Crossroads SID does Downtown. It’s not been a focus of our work thus far. But we do make sure to reach out to new folks who are considering placement in the district and share with them how they can succeed. We work with them to figure out ways to celebrate arts and culture and the other things that we do really well here in the district.
WE: Do you also get existing businesses together on a regular basis to communicating shared concerns and issues?
BP: That’s exactly what we were doing here this morning with our promotions committee — brainstorming ideas for our holiday retail campaign. We hold district meetings where any business or resident or property owner can come and talk with us about what we’re working on and workshop ideas as well. Those are every other month on the first Wednesday at 9am and the first Thursday at 2pm.
WE: The Executive Director of the SNA/SNBA has typically been a pretty high-profile position, especially for our readership. In the past there’s been John Angelo, Cleve Ricksecker…
BP: Cleve was the very first Director of the SNBA.
WE: And Mary Martineau and Diesha Condon… a lot of really great people. Personally, I was excited to hear that you were next in the line for this position. Is it too early to share your own bigger vision for the way you’d like to see things grow or evolve in The Short North? Is there something that you are doing differently than some of your predecessors? Or do you see the role as more of a matter of carrying the baton?
BP: A huge component of it is carrying that baton. You are right to say that is it an important position because this is a really important neighborhood for the city and for the region. I think a component of carrying the baton is continuing to share the story of the Short North, share the success of the Short North, and make sure that it maintains its vibrancy as we go forward into the future.
I think my unique interests bring two areas of focus to the vision of the neighborhood. One is to really emphasize arts and culture and continue to find creative ways for artists to engage in the neighborhood, for our small businesses to engage with artists, and vice-versa. We want to continue that success story because it really is such a substantial component of our identity and our success.
And secondly, I think we really need to be leading the charge on working collaboratively with the city to improve things like access. Everybody focuses on the issue of parking, but I tend to focus more on the issue of access. It’s all about multi-modal initiatives. There are new private initiatives like Car2Go that are starting to pilot themselves in places like the Short North.
I’d say those are my two core focuses, at least over the next year and a half.
WE: Speaking of parking… a lot of people don’t really seem to realize that more parking will just lead to more congestion as it encourages more people to drive instead of seek alternatives.
WE: I recently read a local tv news story about the permanent closure of the surface parking lot closing east of High where the Pizzuti development is now happening. The story wasn’t about the new development, but instead about how the lot was closing forever. The “man on the street quote” in the article came from a woman from a suburb who complained about the closure being terrible for her ability to access the neighborhood. Which struck me as odd, because you’d never see the tv news reporter seeking a quote from someone living in the Short North about their opinion of a new big box store opening in the exurbs being inaccessible because they couldn’t easily walk or bike there.
BP: You raise a really interesting point because I think the SNA has to think about ourselves as both a neighborhood and a vibrant commercial core for this region, and we have to balance that. I live in Merion Village, so I care a lot about multi-modal options for someone traveling even just a short distance to The Short North. But when we are talking about folks who are from a more suburban location, or from another area of the country, we’re really sensitive to the access points they have to the District and things that could be deterrent. I appreciate that the answer isn’t always more parking. The answer is coming up with a balanced approach that doesn’t turn any one particular group off.
Photos by Logan Miller for ColumbusUnderground.com.