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Freeport Merchants Association won't be part of chamber of commerce

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Freeport Merchants Association won't be part of chamber of commerce

FREEPORT — After almost two years of negotiations, a Freeport chamber of commerce will be created, but without the Freeport Merchants Association.

Sande Updegraph, executive director of the Freeport Economic Development Corp., said the FMA decided to remain independent and focus on tourism marketing.

"For now, FMA is going to do what they do best," Updegraph said. "It is not unexpected, but will change how the proposal moves forward."

After several meetings and changes to the structure of the proposed organization, Updegraph presented a proposal for the Chamber and Market Alliance in July.

The Chamber's membership drive started Aug. 1 and had to meet a goal of 600 members by Dec. 15 to become financially sound. Updegraph said the numbers were not where they should have been by the middle of September, and it looked like FMA may not stay aligned with the group at that point.

FMA President Tim Paul sent out a letter confirming his group's withdrawal on Oct. 1.

"It is clear we will not achieve anywhere close to membership required for this model to function without endangering the resources of our current membership-driven organization," he wrote. "Therefore, the FMA Board of Directors has decided that FMA can no longer participate in the Chamber development process."

Myra Hopkins, executive director of FMA, said since the financial benchmark was not met, FMA had to back out of the organization.

"Our hope is that there is a way to work together in the future, but as of now, we can not afford to proceed," she said. "Having two membership-driven entities could be challenging, almost divisive, but our hope, again, is to work together."

Updegraph said the roll of FMA is to promote Freeport with tourism marketing, and the roll of the Chamber is to offer business-to-business benefits, discounts and networking opportunities for local businesses.

"It is important to know that FEDC and FMA are not competing with each other," she said. "We have different rolls to fill."

Town Manager Dale Olmstead said FMA's withdrawal from the Chamber of Commerce it will make it easier for the organization to succeed.

"The level of complexity involved in merging (FMA and FEDC) was becoming too problematic," he said. "If, in the future FMA wants to work together, then that will be great, but for now, they have made the right decision."

Chamber membership will cost $325 a year for businesses in Freeport, and $365 for those from out of town. There are also memberships for nonprofits, retired business owners and friends of the Chamber. Proposed staff include a chamber/economic development director, and business-to-business coordinator and half-time office staff. The proposed governance includes an 11-member board and an economic development advisory board of nine members.

In order to help the Chamber get on its feet, the Town Council Tuesday night approved $48,000 to be spent from the Destination Freeport tax increment fund to provide bridge funding for 2010. Councilors also extended the Park Street TIF from six to 30 years, and included economic development and marketing as an appropriate use. 

Updegraph said 56 local businesses have so far signed up for Chamber memberships.

The first Chamber organizational meeting is set for Monday, Oct. 19, at 5:30 p.m. at Buck's Naked BBQ on Route 1.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net