Marjorie Ferrer Launches New Company Assisting Downtown Districts Nationwide

1235

By Caryn Stumpfl  The Pineapple Contributing Editor Launching a new business after a long, successful career is never easy but Marjorie Ferrer, former executive director for the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority (DDA), makes it look effortless. After 22 years of leading the downtown district, first with the Delray Beach Marketing Cooperative (DBMC) and then with the DDA since 2010, Ferrer’s contract was not renewed by the DDA board and her last official day was Sept. 30. One of the most positive, upbeat people you’ll ever find, Ferrer didn’t miss a beat. She launched her new business, Downtown Management Consulting, assisting other municipalities and downtown districts, on Oct. 1. “I’m so excited that I’m able to share what I’ve learned in Delray Beach,” said Ferrer, regarding her new business working with downtown district clients, such as Northwood Village in West Palm Beach. She’s looking forward to working with clients on specific projects, such as collecting data, conducting studies and consulting on their economic development and marketing initiatives. A Legacy of Success: The list of Ferrer’s many contributions to Delray Beach goes on and on but one of her most notable achievements was bringing the first Christmas tree (only half of it at first) from Miami to Downtown Delray Beach. That was the first step that led to the city owning the current 100-ft. tree and holding its annual holiday extravaganza. Ferrer also created numerous other downtown special events, including the monthly Art and Jazz on the Ave and the annual First Night celebration, as well as Fashion Week, Savor the Avenue, Tastemakers and the big July 4 fireworks on the beach, just to name a few. With the DDA, Ferrer spearheaded a variety of economic development initiatives for the downtown merchants, including city-wide visioning, the Pineapple Grove Main Street designation, conducting various surveys and studies (e.g., merchant survey, sidewalk café study, pedestrian study, etc.), providing the trolley and construction brochures for residents and visitors and creating Responsible Hospitality initiatives. Ferrer also established clean and safe best practices in the downtown district, facilitated twinkle lighting throughout the downtown, banners on the lampposts, and created successful marketing campaigns that essentially helped put Delray Beach on the tourism map. “We’ve always had great support from the city,” said Ferrer. Ferrer’s most proud, however, of the success of the downtown during her tenure. Under Ferrer’s direction, the central business district went from a tax base of $33 million to $700 million, which is directly correlated to her downtown-focused marketing, which helped to increase all property values. “That’s one way to measure our success,” she said. “In a cluster study on retail sales from 2008-2013 by the Dept. of Revenue, our restaurants and merchants picked up $62 million in sales due to our promotions and clean and safe initiatives. Economic development takes a long time and requires constant change. It takes years to keep things fresh,” she said. Initial Challenges  “When I started in 1993, the new streetscape had been done already but nobody had ever heard of Delray Beach. The place looked beautiful but nobody came here yet. There was so much spirit though – the Cornell Museum at Old School Square and Tennis Center had just opened – but the downtown area was literally just from Federal Highway to the railroad tracks,” said Ferrer. “Back then, people wouldn’t walk from the Tennis Center to Elwood’s.” That year, the city received the “All-America City” designation for the first time. “That was the turning point in the community,” said Ferrer. “It showed we were on the right track and energized everyone to work hard. I remember putting in a lot of work with no days off. We started the monthly calendar and held a lot of events. Probably the biggest task was communicating,” she said. “I volunteered for different boards, made suggestions and just spread the word,” she added. Assisting Downtown Merchants  Having worked originally in retail as a buyer for Jordan Marsh and then as the Assistant Managing Director for Miami Seaquarium before coming to Delray Beach, Ferrer had an affinity for working with merchants and understood what they needed to be successful. “Being a buyer at Jordan Marsh showed me how to deal with merchants and watching all the operations at the Seaquarium taught me about placemaking.” Ferrer also literally wrote the book on merchant responsibility, putting together the “blue book” – a merchant guide for Delray Beach rules and regulations. From her many trips observing best practices from other cities, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Seattle and others, she found that city officials often misunderstood merchants but Delray Beach city officials “get it.” According to Ferrer, “The city knows that if the downtown is healthy, the whole city is healthy.” Over the years, Ferrer worked with and continues to participate on various committees and boards for Florida Main Street, Visit Florida’s Downtowns and Small Towns programs, Discover the Palm Beaches, International Downtown Association, Florida Redevelopment Association and Responsible Hospitality Institute. “Marketing and promoting downtown took me far and wide for Delray Beach.” Daring to be Different  “We did some interesting events that are different from other communities. Of course, we had the Howard Alan art events. He gets it … and makes sure vendors and booths aren’t in front of our merchants and restaurants during his events,” she said. Remembering fun times with the annual bed race, Hot Air Balloon Festival and a hilarious Chihuahua race, Ferrer mentioned that events downtown brought different cultures together. “Our Cinco de Mayo festival brought people who weren’t Mexican downtown to experience a different culture.” “I’m looking forward to exciting times,” she said, applying her skills for leaders and merchants in other downtowns in her new venture. “The first thing I’ll tell them is that no downtown can be revived or thrive without caring, dedicated people willing to work.” Ferrer and husband Joe Ferrer are long-time Delray Beach residents. “Our daughters were 8 and 10 years old when we moved here. They’re now 31 and 33.” One of the aspects that has changed the most, according to Ferrer, is the perception of safety. “There are simple things cities can do to change the perception,” she said. “As leaders in Delray, sometimes you have to take a leap and just be different from the rest. It could be as small as using different colored lights on the trees or creating a new event, but the merchants loved it and it works. Grateful to All  “We’re blessed that our daughters grew up in this special place and that my work here made it possible for them to witness the benefits of people working together.” Ferrer wanted to thank all of the many volunteers, city employees, co-workers and friends who worked with her over the years. “They worked late in advance of the many events and toiled late after the event to gather trash and pack away equipment, just so Delray’s merchants could open their doors the next day to a clean, safe and dynamic environment.” Ferrer’s daughters, Alexandra Hackner and Darien Arden, recently threw a launch party for her new business at 32 East on Atlantic Avenue. “I’m a faithful person,” said Ferrer, who gave a one-year succession plan to the DDA board that was not to be. “I have faith that everything was meant to happen.” Ferrer has no plans to slow down and remains just as busy as ever with her business and her many boards and committees. Although she’s committed to finally finishing her garden that she started a couple years ago. “I’m not going anywhere; I’m still a part of it all.” Merchants and friends who would like to honor Marjorie Ferrer’s legacy are invited to purchase a living plant to help finish Marjorie’s garden. For years she has worked on completing a beautiful garden at her home. Your help with the completion of this project would be a wonderful “thank you” to her and for her to remember all of those who shared her passion. For more information, call the Delray Garden Center at (561) 243-6869 or email dgc@bellsouth.net.