WOW up for the challenge

WESTFIELD – A week ago, two local businesses – Firtion-Adams Funeral Home and United Bank – announced a fundraising challenge to benefit Westfield On Weekends (WOW).
WOW, a local non-profit devoted to promoting the city, is looking to continue the work of the former Westfield Business Improvement District (BID), which provided marketing, maintenance and beautification services to downtown city businesses prior to being dissolved over the summer by a vote of the city council.
That 9-2 vote, which at-large councilor James Adams, president of Firtion-Adams, called one of the council’s “saddest votes” despite abstaining, was driven by regulations implemented at the state level forcing all residents and businesses residing in BID districts statewide to join the organization and pay retroactive dues.
WOW Treasurer Barbara Trant will be overseeing the donations to WOW and says that the organization will be using the funds to continue with the event programming they have been providing for almost a dozen years.
“WOW has an all volunteer committee, so the BID was a help to us. They were kind of our boots on the ground to help us promote events,” said Trant.
“There has always been oversight for all of the money that we handle every year, for all of the sponsorships we receive for the programming,” she said, adding that the money raised will be watched over and spent ‘rather frugally.’
The WOW board is currently composed of 9 members in addition to Trant – President Bob Plasse, Secretary Tanya Vancini, business owners Prob Rashamwala, Stacie Phetteplace, Lisa Oleksak-Sullivan, Cindy Gaylord, and Jerry Tomasco, Lisa McMahon of the Westfield State Foundation and Dianna McClean, Westfield’s Community Development Block Grant coordinator.
In addition, the organization has about 50 volunteers who help with events.
Trant added that WOW will be retaining the services of the BID’s “Clean Team”, a group that maintained and cleaned the streets of the city’s BID district, but will be given a new name.
“We’ll have to give them a new name because they won’t be cleaning, but we do hire them to help us do events in the downtown,” she said. “We can’t put on a MusicFest concert without paying for police, paying for advertising, the performers and sound.
“There’s a lot of cost that goes into to putting on any event and those are what will be covered (with donations),” Trant said. “We’re looking into perhaps using it for us to maybe hire someone who would do event-by-event coordination, but it wouldn’t be an executive salary. It wouldn’t be a day-to-day person.”
“We have to pay for insurance for our events. There’s a lot of things people don’t realize – when you put on an event, what that entails,” she said. “Sound is a cost when you have a concert, advertising is a cost. We have a website designer.”
Trant hopes that these donations will help WOW get to the “next level” in doing more for the community than they have been doing and to inspire people to become more involved with the city’s downtown.
Since Firtion-Adams donated $1,500 and United Bank pledged to match up to $10,000 in the fundraising effort last week, Trant said that there have been a few donations that have come in but there hasn’t been a huge spike.
“We’re generating a mailing to let people know that this challenge exists. It should go out early next week,” she said, adding that if the challenge reaches it’s goal of $20,000, it would cover less than 50 percent of the organization’s budget for the year.
WOW President Bob Plasse said the organization’s board needs to meet to determine spending priorities.
“We will continue to produce a calender of great community events, which was our purpose and written into our memorandum of understanding with the BID,” he said. “BID’s relationship with us was around marketing and day-to-day activities which we might have had to put off because we were volunteers.”
“Oftentimes, they might have gone to a city meeting when we couldn’t have,” Plasse said. “When folks think of the BID, they think of cleaning and beautification, but I think we have to meet with the city in terms of what we do with that.”
Plasse said that he didn’t think that WOW could continue all of the operations of the BID.
“I don’t think we’re capable – we’re an all volunteer organization at the moment,” he said. “To get it to the next step, whatever we raise with this challenge will help us continue what we’ve been doing for 11 years.”
Of the businesses who refused to join the BID and whose refusal effectively set the organization’s demise into motion, Plasse hopes that these city businesses will now donate to this challenge to help support programming and services in the community.
“I would hope that folks who may not have agreed with the procedures of the BID will say ‘hey, it’s time for us to help our town,'” he said. “We raised $40,000 each year for the last couple of years in order to give people the community life they wish. These events don’t happen without the financial support of our community.”
“We need families and children to come out and support our events, from Dickens Days to our concerts on the green or the Universe According to Josh Simpson,” Plasse said. “In order to establish (Westfield) as a destination, we have to become a destination for our community folks, as well. We want folks to really begin to own Westfield, spirit-wise and in attendance.”

To Top