Should downtown festivals be changed?

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Disclaimer: The comments in this blog are my personal opinion and may or may not reflect an adopted position of the city of Glendale and its city council.

Below are some of the comments I received in response to my blog on downtown published a few days ago. They are a combination of responses from Facebook (my blog links to FB and some comments were made there) and my Word Press blog. Some comments are from festival attendees and some are from downtown business owners.  I purposefully did not attribute any of the comments by name to encourage others to express themselves on this issue. I will reserve my comments at the end of this blog.

“As a business owner, I would love to see the city put money into “revamping” or “beautifying” the area the directly surrounds my business. Ohh but wait.. it’s my responsibility to care for my business and move it forward. It’s my responsibility to pay for the marketing that reaches my potential customers. It’s my responsibility to be open hours, and do split shifts, to accommodate my potential customers, as most don’t even get off work till 5pm. It’s my responsibility to make sure my clients are accommodated the best I can. NOT THE CITY’s responsibility!

 “It’s absolutely ridiculous how some of the downtown merchants are acting, as if they are owed something from the city and the taxpayers. Any other business owner would move/relocate if that area wasn’t sufficient enough. Granted, I like downtown Glendale, it has potential, but unfortunately it will never be the go to place in Glendale anymore. Half of the stores are rundown shops that look like swap markets. I try to make it to one of the shops before they close at 5pm to get a treat, and many times it’s closed earlier, so I stopped trying. Many need new windows and paint. And I highly doubt the city manager would deny you the breakdown of the $1million and where that money went. For the tax revenue for downtown, wasn’t it like 300-400k?? If that’s true, then that sounds like a BAD INVESTMENT.
“Where is the responsibility of the business owners? Keep complaining about the city, the mayor, the council, the city manager, or whoever else and I would fully support the potential for all of the city offices to pack up and relocate to Westgate. Getting sick and tired of hearing about the squabbling and how downtown is suffering. There are other needs in the city and more important problems that should be addressed. Don’t be selfish, put in your own time and MONEY and try to help the situation. If you have put in the time and money and it hasn’t worked, maybe it’s time to reevaluate your business.

“ I know I sound harsh and I’m apologize Joyce if I’m coming off too strong, but I’m just not understanding how these business owners are fighting the city so much. Glendale Glitters is great, but unfortunately it’s not a crowd I want to be around, I feel unsafe. I don’t know how anything will help that. It is time to change things up. Not completely redo everything, but up the ante on the vendor booths. The quality has gone down (but don’t get rid of the candy apples), and many of the booths seem to be selling trinkets. Sorry but that’s not what I’d go down there for. Maybe someone needs to do some recon on the Prescott festivals and see how they do it. Much cleaner look and reputable vendors. It come back to design psychology, if the look is unappealing, no one will stay or come back. Hope I wasn’t too blunt.”

“Glendale Glitters has very popular over the many years we have been here. My wife every year expects me to take her downtown to see the lights and sometimes walk around when not crowded. We like the stage performances which seems to be well attended.
The city overall should make money on this popular event,however add something new and I am not sure what that would be,expand the area if necessary nothing wrong with a big crowd, encourage the businesses someway to stay open. Change is good just leave the beautiful lights on please.”

“Thank you for your excellent explanation regarding the changes for Glendale Glitters 2018.Now I completely understand the reasoning behind the decision. Like everything – and everyone – else, a lot changes over 20 years time. Hopefully, this change will be for the good.”

“I am a downtown merchant & property owner. Councilmember Clark you are exactly correct in that we need to update and make changes to the festivals. The merchants will be the first to agree. We are not happy with the direction they have gone. However, it is not completely fair to compare last year’s results due to the fact that the festival vendors were greatly cut and THE BIGGEST factor is that marketing was cut by 1/3rd of the budget!!! You invite less people, less people will show… Another HUGE factor is that the person in charge of last year’s festival admittedly had no experience putting together events. She was brought in from another city department because of lack of staff. We questioned the decision to put someone in charge of the city’s biggest festival with zero qualifications. Not only was she put in charge, she was given the instructions to change it…. Again, she has NO EXPERIENCE!!!
“Merchants had zero input! Yes we need to change the festivals but I do however think that the merchants need to be involved in the changes. This cannot happen this year because of the time restraints and the city employee delays in action. It’s a shame because this is the 25th Anniversary and should have been put as a priority. The merchants are not in favor of the proposed changes in the budget to add more lights and fireworks. We need to revert back to the year 2016-2017 festival footprint and programming and start ASAP restructuring for the following year 2019-2020. This will allow the affected business community to utilize the budgeted ‘Downtown Manager’ to create a better festival plan.”

“Fun to visit the first few years, got to be a major pain to actually enjoy it.
Shops are too small in size to accommodate the amount of visitors, and half close down because the traffic is too heavy for them, producing the fear of being overwhelmed and theft.
It won’t be a popular opinion, but the class of visitors is lower, as they are just seeking out ‘county fair food’ and don’t actually frequent the retail stores as patrons.
“This should be considered to be moved to a more accommodating location like cardinal stadium parking lots. The traffic setup is already there for large events, the area is very easily viewable from all around for security reasons. It certainly would allow more food truck vendors to participate as the space is available as well.”

“Downtown business leaders are frustrated with the events staff working in a vacuum. We are constantly asking to be included in the planning and find ourselves shut out. The most recent presentation to the council concerning changes to the Glitters event is one such example. I am working with other business leaders and the downtown manager seeking to make the downtown area more attractive to foot traffic. We need for people to linger in order to generate sales, and if the events are a rush in and out, without highlighting the existing businesses then what is the point in remaining open. It is lack of customers that is forcing the businesses into odd hours, they cannot afford to retain employees in order to remain open.
“The entire city is in need for an image upgrade. You know that I have often mentioned that we don’t want to be an extension of Maryvale, but the press views the city that way.
The city has a major responsibility to make people feel safe and comfortable when visiting, everything from beautification and regular maintenance to amenities and positive looking press releases are necessary to overcome the lack of comfort, lack of desire to linger, in our city.”

“Totally agree with you on this one. People want the festival but are unfamiliar with the costs and lack of adequate services for how large it has become.”

“I totally agree with you! Why are they trying to fix something that wasn’t broke until last year? Very hypocritical comments being made. There should have been a solid Merchants Association a long time ago working with the city. A lot of money has been invested in downtown and now they are throwing it away in favor of Westgate??? Oh that’s where the money is and the wealthier folks? Never mind the businesses that have hung in there hoping for more! I am really disgusted with this council and the city manager. And why aren’t they fixing the staffing issues since they seem to have money now? The library is still closed on Fridays. Enough said.”

“Well, according to Kevin Phelps (City Manager) they spend $1,000,000 on downtown annually, but we have made repeated asks to break that down. That 1 million is more than the city gets in sales tax revenue downtown, so it isn’t like this is a profit center, but it does go a very long way toward impacting the perception of Glendale as a whole. Westgate, as Joyce points out is not apples to apples. 
“We have a superbowl coming up, so now is the time to decide if downtown is worthy of a renewed focus, or be written off as a loss. 
“I myself am trying to convince staff and our council to revive it, which is going to take some new priorities new business incentives, and unbudgeted expenses.”

 “So if Westgate is paying for itself, then why is downtown being ignored? Where is the money??? Follow the money. I’m sorry folks but when they “cut” the festivals when the financial crisis hit they KEPT Glitters because it MADE money for the city – the others did not. That was public information. Now all of a sudden it loses money? Last year part of the problem is they cut the vendors out, etc. People come to these events for all different reasons. I never heard a complaint until last year. Not everyone hates crowds!”

“The majority of the businesses are not asking for more than for the city to maintain its own property and to remedy safety, reputation and appearance issues. We are asking for a level of maintenance that downtown once had but were abandoned during the downturn and looking for the city to enforce its own codes. Apparently things like some sign codes are now unenforceable yet remain on the books.
“Most strong businesses have already moved away or closed, the remaining businesses are hanging by a thread so money to improve downtown is not coming from them. If the downtown area is to be reinvigorated it will have to come through attracting new businesses, not through blaming the existing businesses. Apparently it sounds like whining if we ask the city to work on improvement in order to attract new business, and through those new businesses attract more potential customers in the area. The city could help with new business incentives to bring in fresh blood.
“I already moved my business, so I certainly do not have a horse in the race any more, yet I continue to invest my time toward a vision of a thriving downtown. I get no benefit back so I am certainly not whining or looking for a handout. 

“Some issues are unique to the downtown area. Like the sidewalks, they are not owned by the building owner, in fact you need special permits and enhanced insurance to place anything on the sidewalk. There is an assumption that the business owners should maintain the sidewalks in front of their store, and some do, but what do you do about the city sidewalks in front of empty buildings or that are not adjacent to any business? It isn’t like a mall where the mall property management maintains common areas, the city is the property management in this case, but doesn’t maintain the common areas except directly around city buildings.
“Another unique issue is having normal access to your business blocked during the large events. Events that may not attract your typical customer. Now imagine a generator for lighting and barricades for foot traffic placed in front of your doors. Events bring a lot of issues with them, so is it really unreasonable to ask the event staff work with the businesses, and strive to increase communication with the businesses they may inconvenience?

“Nobody said the City manager refused to provide the information, only that is hasn’t been forthcoming. The claim was made four months ago, and the past three months have been the busiest time of the year for his office –the closing of the budget cycle. I am currently digging through the budget on my own to be able to help businesses know the impact of the requests they make. We want to understand what any tradeoffs would be. Like giving up an event to get sidewalks and crosswalks cleaned. 
“Even with the downtown manager and some of the staff working with us things happen very slowly and get frustrating.
“I will say that Glendale Star and other press have not helped in how they portray the remaining businesses as whiners (well Ok, some are), we actually have a partnership, but it doesn’t look that way from the outside.”

“Downtown has a lot of potential to be a destination and I think some of the merchants there are working towards that. Cuff and Off the Cuff are great examples, but they operate like a business. The Astrology store is cool too. I used to try to do all of my holiday gift shopping downtown and in Catlin Court but the shops were rarely open. I’d love to see more restaurants, cafes, and fun boutiques so that it is a destination where I can hang out. That isn’t going to happen with a few events a year, it’s going to take time, effort, and institutional changes.”

What these comments reflect is a great deal of disunity and confusion. Some believe the purpose of the festivals is to drive shopping traffic into the surrounding businesses during the event. Some believe it is to familiarize people with the downtown to attract potential customers in the expectation that they will return to shop. Merchants, what is your ultimate goal for downtown Glendale?

Many expect the city to use its resources to beautify the downtown. There is much that can be done. But there is no articulation of priorities in terms of what the beautification should be. There are some actions that the downtown merchants can take without anything other than working with the city for approval. One is the idea of unified signage. Here are some examples:

The merchants can get together, decide on a palette of approved signage and ask for the city’s approval if the designs are not allowed under the current code. Amendments are made to the city code all the time. Another action could be the use of sidewalks in front of a shop. That doesn’t mean a tacky sandwich board but creative use that protects the pedestrian’s free movement along a sidewalk. Again, merchants have the freedom to create a proposal and present it to the city as a code amendment. What about a schedule of cleaning not only in front of your store but your window displays? As a former bookstore owner I changed my window display weekly. Is the front of your shop clean? Does it look appealing and inviting to a potential customer? Elbow grease does wonders.

Downtown merchants must form their own Merchants Association that will finally afford them some political clout with the city. Dues don’t have to be exorbitant. They could be as little as $5 a month. 50 merchants would generate $250 a month or $3000 a year; 100 merchants would generate $500 a month or $6000 a year. It may not seem like much but it’s a start to fund some small collaborative and collective actions that benefit all and just like saving your loose change in a jar…after awhile it becomes real money.

This may be the toughest nut to crack. The downtown merchants (and throw in the Catlin Court merchants) are like the Hatfields and the McCoys; or the Democrats and the Republicans. There are factions and some hate each other. As long as this persists the downtown will never succeed. It’s time to bury the hatchet, hold your noses, and cooperate with one another for not only your ultimate survival but ultimate success.

If you’ve ever listened to President Trump he rails about the U.S. being a ‘sucker’, for example, with NATO. We pay the most to protect European nations while many of these countries pay little toward their obligation. The city, at times, feels like a ‘sucker’. It pours tens of thousands of dollars annually into downtown with few merchants paying anything that could be viewed as their ‘fair share.’ The merchants can’t get along with one another to present a viable goal for downtown. Is it any wonder they don’t get along with the city as well?

I have not lost hope. There is much the downtown merchants can do at little to no cost if they can just come together and adopt a unified approach. Create your vision. Collectively adopt your goals, both annual and long term. The city wants to be your partner but it should not continue to pour money into the downtown aimlessly only to be berated because it wasn’t want you expected or envisioned. Heck, we have no idea what your vision is…do you?

© Joyce Clark, 2018         

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