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Memo to Boise: Keep the Lights On

Advice given at State of Downtown meeting.

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Roger Brooks wants downtown Boise to keep the lights on.

"We're moving to the European standard," Brooks told a full house at the Boise Centre on April 28 as part of the 24th annual State of Downtown meeting.

Brooks knows a thing or two about selling a city. As CEO of Destination Development International, he helped brand and market nearly 1,000 communities worldwide. The Downtown Boise Association asked Brooks to serve as its wake-up call for its annual early morning gathering.

"Seventy percent of all consumer spending takes place after 6 p.m.," said Brooks. "Are your businesses open? Even public markets that are open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. don't work anymore."

Referencing nearby Sparks, Nev., as an example, Brooks said that's where public market attendance has quadrupled since extending its hours into the evening.

Brooks also wants tourism promoters to stop using time-weathered cliches like: "So much to do" and "We're the center of it all," and words like "explore" and "discover."

"If Boise is using these words and cliches, what is there to differentiate what you're saying from any other city in the country?" asked Brooks. "If I can plug any city into your catchphrase, you've lost the sale."

Following DBA Executive Director Karen Sander's entree of accomplishments (three consecutive years of more downtown Boise businesses opening vs. closing) and challenges (downtown's growing graffiti problem), Brooks served up the equivalent of a triple-shot espresso in his sunrise message.

For the better part of an hour, Brooks unloaded a number of statistics that led to several conclusions: Downtown businesses need to stay open later, traditional marketing is usually ineffective, and most cities need a lot more benches (for lazy husbands and boyfriends).

"Women account for 80 percent of all spending," said Brooks, pointing to photographs of male bench-sitters. "So, you need at least 100 benches downtown for the men."

Brooks also pushed something called his "10-plus-10-plus-10 rule": three linear downtown blocks must include 10 food merchants, 10 retailers and 10 places that remain open after 6 p.m.

Brooks' message gave Sander plenty to consider.

"These are conversations that we've had for a number of years now," Sander told Citydesk. "We're looking forward to bringing stakeholders to the table to ask, 'What is our brand?'"

Sander said her organization would expect to confer with officials from Boise City Hall, the Capital City Development Corporation, Boise Valley Economic Partnership, Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and downtown property owners and developers.

"I really like a lot of what I heard from Mr. Brooks," said Sander. "But of course, we want to tweak a lot of what he had to say and build our own message."

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