Metro-East News

July 27, 2014

Darrell Coons discusses his roles, vision with BASIC, Belleville Main Street

Darrell Coons became the Belleville Achieves Strength in Character Initiative's first executive director in June after previously being the nonprofit's board president.

Coons juggles his new part-time role along with another new part-time position: He replaces Laurie Bauer as director of Belleville Main Street, a committee of the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce.

The two groups pay Coons a combined $47,000 and no benefits.

In these new roles, Coons will represent the interest of downtown Belleville merchants and foster communication among these business owners as well as connect residents to resources in the city.

Coons previously worked for the Alzheimer's Association, where he remains a volunteer. Coons also is a chaplain for the Belleville, Eastside, Northwest and Swansea fire departments and an elder at Cornerstone Christian Church in Shiloh.

Here is what Coons has to say about his vision for Belleville Achieves Strength in Character (BASIC) and Belleville Main Street:

Can you explain the difference between BASIC and Belleville Main Street?

BASIC is an outgrowth of the Belleville School District 118 character awareness campaign in the schools. ... Folks said why can't we just expand that to the city? ... We started out with a purpose statement that said we would bring character awareness and education to the community, that we would engage community members in volunteerism and serve as a connector for people in the city.

Recently BASIC endorsed a plan that went to the City Council as the Belleville Neighborhood Partnership, dividing the city into zones, getting neighborhood associations within those zones to work together.

So BASIC is just an umbrella a lot of that works under. We have zone leaders now we can call to reach all the neighborhood associations at once. We didn't have that strong link before. And BASIC has become sort of a financial conduit for them.

Belleville Main Street is a merchant-led organization. It focuses on Main Street from Mueller Furniture on the east end to Lindenwood University-Belleville. My job there is to coordinate their activities and things like that.

Belleville Main Street wants to see every building with a shop or business and we don't want to see any businesses that are here, leave.

What is your role leading each?

Because all the BASIC board members were volunteers, all of us with full-time jobs and multiple responsibilities, there was a lot of stuff that was not getting done, like coordination and communication. Early in the spring we decided it was time to try to have someone sit in an office who would be the face of BASIC Initiative, day to day. I put together a newsletter that I'm sending to board members every couple of weeks and we will be looking at social media, like Facebook.

In order to do the jobs ... I have to limit my hours in the office. I need to be at neighborhood meetings and in stores talking to people to see where their difficulties are and how we can help.

With Main Street, it's keeping the communication going with the merchants. So a lot of that is sending out email blasts of here's the next thing or here's a question that's come up, let me hear from you.

Downtown businesses want to see more thought and organization to our marketing plan, a structured plan on what we're doing six months out, so I'm focused on that too.

Is there overlap, conflict between the two entities?

Both are interested in improving Belleville. Since both deal with putting their best foot forward and lifting Belleville up to be the community it can be, it works very well.

Where there are stresses are, from time to time, I'm encouraged to speak out as director of Belleville Main Street on issues which is not something that the BASIC Initiative does so we have to walk a very fine line there because BASIC doesn't want to be political and occasionally there might be something on Main Street that becomes a political issue. It's not insurmountable.

What do neighborhoods have on their wish lists?

We have a couple of places that want to establish community gardens and need a little help with capital expenditures. Some of our neighborhoods want to improve sidewalks not in city plans right now, want benches along sidewalks or to replace signs that are old. We've been approached about helping with a playground, and for those kind of things we work hand in hand with the Parks and Recreation Department, which is one reason my office is in their building.

What would you like to see downtown?

Some merchants have joked about having a "Dudes Night." Main Street sent me to the Southern Illinois Economic Redevelopment meeting down in Carterville a couple of weeks ago. ... One of the things I did there was start thinking about what we should add to downtown. I think we need to have some kind of shop that would attract men. We have Curt Smith's Sporting Goods and we have the shooting range and gun shop and some bars and that's it. We don't really have men's clothing unless they're looking for T-shirts. We don't want to impact any of the businesses that are there by what we bring in but sometimes competition helps so we might even try to find somebody in a sporting goods field that has stuff different than Curt Smith's. I would love to see something like the Alpine Shop, something that is backpacking and rock climbing.

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