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City leaders think downtown groups should consolidate

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- It's budget season for local governments. One potential way Wilmington City Council is discussing to save money is cutting down on the number of publicly-funded downtown advocacy groups.

"The recovery of downtown Wilmington has been a gradual process, and I think that our organization has provided a significant amount of leadership in that revitalization," Wilmington Downtown Inc.'s John Hinnant said.

Downtown leaders say business is booming with an 85-percent occupancy rate, but city leaders say the way that business is done could soon change downtown.

"The demand for services in downtown from our perspective continues to grow and are not diminishing. They are continuing to grow," Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. "We have more and more people and more and more folks that are representing different organizations and different types of events that want to bring our events downtown."

From Wilmington Downtown Inc. to the Downtown Business Alliance and Bring It! Downtown, there are a number of groups that accept public funding to promote growth in the Central Business District. Some city leaders would like to merge those groups into one unified voice as groups in Raleigh have done.

"A lot of these folks, some of them are involved in Wilmington Downtown and vice versa, and a lot of people from Wilmington Downtown are involved with DBA, so there is a lot of crossover there. It would be good to speak with one unified voice and make it a lot easier," Saffo said.

While downtown advocates agree it is a novel idea, they say it's easier said than done.

"In 2011 we began working with the Merchants Association to merge DBA and WDI, and about a year ago they decided they didn't want to continue with that process," Hinnant said.

We tried to reach out to Jim Bitto of the Downtown Business Alliance, but he was unavailable for an interview. He did say by phone that he liked the Raleigh model, but he said a merger was unlikely due to the way that the different groups were classified.

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