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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.

Let’s talk about Glendale Glitters, the city’s major downtown festival. First let me preface that it was former Marketing Director, Paula Illardo, and I, as a brand new councilmember, which asked the city council in 1994 for the very first investment of funding for 50,000 Christmas lights in Murphy Park. Over the years the number of lights has increased year over year and this year downtown Glendale will have 2 million lights – not just in Murphy Park but throughout the downtown footprint.

Courtesy of the Arizona Republic

I have always supported the downtown festivals but lately, in at least the last 5 years, I no longer enjoyed visiting on any given weekend. Rather my family and friends would visit during the week when one could actually look at and enjoy the light display.

What turned us and many others off? Councilmember Malnar is correct in his council workshop comment that it had become a carnival rather than a festival (and there is a distinction). The footprint for the event was too small to accommodate all of the attendees. It was no fun to walk the park packed in like cattle. It became too difficult to actually visit a vendor or to truly enjoy the lights. Over the years, the quality of merchandise offered by the vendors declined as well.

Let’s look at some facts. I don’t think anyone expects the downtown festivals to be money makers but I believe the expectation is that the revenues should cover the cost to the city to produce them. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2015-16 total revenues for Glendale Glitters and Glow were $442,789 and in FY 2017-18 total revenues were $313,846. Revenues declined by $128,943 in every measurable statistic:

  • Vending fees were down by $88,461
  • Sponsorship fees declined by $23,500
  • Beverage sales were down by $3,731
  • Parking fees declined by $13,240

Festival attendance has also declined with an attendance in FY 2015-16 of 235,000 and an attendance in FY 2017-18 of 216,000 totaling a decline of 19,000 visitors. It is fair to say some of the decline is attributable to the changes made in FY 2017-18 with fewer vendors. However, until a visitor arrived at the festival that visitor would not have known there were fewer vendors or perhaps a first time visitor would not have even realized that there were fewer vendors. Attribution to the changes made in FY 2017-18 is not sufficient to explain the decline.

Why are the festivals declining? I am sure to receive many opinions as to why and many will lay the blame at the feet of the city, most specifically the city manager and city council. But there is more to the problem. Glendale now faces competition from all over the Valley. Many communities saw the success of Glendale Glitters and mimicked the event. You can now attend a Glendale Glitters-like event all over the Valley.

I think it’s also fair to say the event has become stale. It’s the same template year after year. A certain percentage of visitors having attended once will opt for a newer, fresher event knowing exactly what they can expect from Glendale Glitters. With the exception of last year, Glendale has not attempted to refresh the event for over 20 years. Admittedly the changes did not help but if we don’t try we won’t learn what new things work and what doesn’t.

An equally important factor is the inconsistency of hours of downtown shops and restaurants. What does every business do during the holiday season (which is typically when they earn 70% of their annual revenue)? They extend the hours when they are open. Today’s customers are spoiled and expect merchants to be open until 10 PM in the evening, every day of the holiday season. It should also be acknowledged that online shopping is having an effect driving local merchants to offer unusual or original items not usually found online.

Courtesy of the Arizona Republic

 It is so disappointing to view the downtown lights and to discover that half of the shops and restaurants are closed. I know I will hear from some downtown merchants saying they are open and I congratulate them for their entrepreneurship. But there are many others that are closed and they do no favor for those fellow businesses that do stay open. They harm the entire downtown business community.

As I said at the recent city council workshop, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I do not want to eliminate these festivals. I don’t think anyone wants to do that. But it is time to try to do something different.

That’s where merchants and general public can weigh in. The solution is not to ‘resist’ and to cling to past practices especially with a petition to ask that the festivals remain exactly the way they have always been.

I urge you to use this platform to share your ideas and comments. I promise to share them with the city council and senior management. I ask that you remain respectful of all individuals whether it be a citizen, merchant, elected, or city management.

It’s time to take a fresh look at these festivals and to offer your solutions to refresh them, to make them equally competitive with other Valley holiday events, and to preserve the spirit of its 1994 original intent – the celebration of the holiday with all of its wonders to be shared with our children.

© Joyce Clark, 2018         

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such material. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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.

At a recent city council meeting the city received a rebate check from Arizona Public Service (APS) in the amount of over $430,000. Here is the link to the Glendale Star story: http://www.glendalestar.com/news/article_b7fdec58-fba7-11e7-9db1-3bd587ba3532.html. This rebate is due to the city’s conversion of its street lights to LED. In addition to the rebate, the city projects an annual savings in its APS electric bill of $494,000 and another $180,000 in annual maintenance. This year the city, between the APS rebate and lower electric bill, has over a million more dollars in its General Fund to spend on other needs.

Glendale City Council receives APS rebate

Here’s a little of the back story. During last year’s council budget workshops, I discovered that this LED conversion project was not scheduled to begin for another three years and to be implemented over two years. I requested that the LED project be moved up to the current year and it should be completed within one fiscal year. After all, it was a no brainer. If the city had a chance to save money why wouldn’t we be doing it immediately? There was push back on council and not every councilmember immediately embraced the idea. However, after further council discussion, my request was approved. I am glad my persistence paid off for the city.

Recently, I requested another initiative that I believe will also generate revenue for the city. Those who have residential rental properties in Glendale are required to be licensed and to pay a monthly residential real estate tax. I heard from a constituent about a friend of his who had 8 residential rental properties in Glendale yet only self-reported and paid tax on one property. I suspect this is more common than is generally known. To this date the city has no mechanism to verify and capture all residential rentals. As a Council Item of Special Interest (CIOSI) I have requested that the city’s Finance Department initiate a pilot program to identify and capture all residential rentals within the city. It has been approved by council and I anticipate that the city will capture an estimated $500,000 annually in unreported and under reported residential rental tax. If it generates the kind of money I anticipate, there’s additional city revenue that can also be used to meet other needs.

During my sixteen years as councilmember I often initiated pilot projects that were eventually adopted throughout the city. As you drive through Glendale you will see blue and white street identification signs as you approach a street. They are low in height and specifically designed to assist motorists. What started as a pilot project in my district, the Yucca district, can now be found citywide.

Former Glendale Communications Director, Paula Illardo, and I requested the very first funding in the amount of $50,000 for Christmas lights to be installed in downtown Murphy Park. That initial request is now known as Glendale Glitters.

I also initiated a pilot project by purchasing tablets and lending them out to Yucca district residents. The surveys and feedback the users provided convinced our Glendale Library system to replicate the system city wide. I don’t believe it is still being used as tablets and smart phones are so prevalent these days and everyone and his brother has one.

I was successful in getting the city to adopt a League of Cities partnership program that enabled the issuance of Glendale insurance cards (at no cost to the city) for residents’ use in saving money on not only their prescriptions but that of their pets as well.

Over my long history as a Glendale city councilmember I have always sought out ways to save the city and our residents money or to initiate a project that benefits all residents. My request to move up the LED light conversion project was not my first money saving initiative for the city and I suspect it will not be my last.

© Joyce Clark, 2018         

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such material. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

For the entire month of December the Glendale Star has been running a series of stories by Darrell Jackson (go to www.glendalestar.com ) regarding the vendors used at Glendale’s four premier events that occur from the end of November until early February. These four events are Glendale Glitters opening weekend, Glendale Glitters weekends in December, the Glitter and Glow Block Party ending event and the Chocolate Affaire.

The issue is does Glendale really put local Glendale businesses first when accepting vendor applications for these events? It is a question that has been raised by local vendors for several years, whose applications appear to be routinely rejected but it only boiled to the surface when the Glendale Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert Heidt became the local vendors’ champion.

Let’s look at some statistics. “Over the past three years (2012, 2013 and 2014), the city has received 1,204 applications to be a vendor at one of the four major events (cited above). Of those, the city has approved 739 with only 15.29% (113) coming from Glendale businesses and 84.71% (626) coming from other businesses.” (Glendale Star, December 15, 2016).

“When it comes to local food merchants, the city has received 213 total applications for the current season with 92 (43.19%) being approved over that time. Of the 92 approved food vendors, 13 (14.13%) have been from Glendale while 79 (85.86%) have been from non-Glendale food vendors. The 2017 Chocolate Affaire has no local businesses approved, with 11 local businesses denied, while 19 businesses were approved to participate.” (Glendale Star, December 15, 2016).

Kim Larson, Glendale Public Facilities, Recreation and Special Events spokesperson, has said, “As long as they meet the minimum requirements, absolutely, we give them a priority. According to city documents, the minimum requirements are, ‘a menu with pricing, photos of products and booth set up, and a $25 (non-refundable) application fee.’ The application asks vendors if they would like a 10X10 prime booth for an additional $150, or a 10X20 prime spot for an additional $200. Each approved vendor is provided with a two-plug, 20 AMP outlet but they can request additional power for an additional $25 to $100.” (Glendale Star, December 8, 2016).

After the application process closes a jury of staff reviews the applications and makes the final selection of vendors.  “The jury for the current season consisted of three members of city staff – Simms, Heidi Barriga (Special Events) and Cameron Dewaele (Parks and Recreation.” (Glendale Star, December 29, 2016). “Once a vendor is approved, they then pay $65 for a background check.” (Glendale Star, December 8, 2016).

“All food vendors are required to purchase any bottled beverages (water, soda and ice) from Kalil Bottling –an official city sponsor – at $15 per case and must sell them for $2 apiece. Vendors who participate are required to pay 20% of their gross income to the city, which helps offset the cost of events. Larson said the city estimates the revenue to be approximately $250,000 from vendors.” (Glendale Star, December 8, 2016).

“…two vendors who have been approved numerous times and are part of the current events, reported to the Glendale Star that they have never been billed by the city and have never written a tax check to the city.” (Glendale Star, December 22, 2016). Vickie Rios, Glendale’s Finance Director, could not confirm this assertion but indicated that if it had happened in the past, it would not occur in the future.

As you can see, it can be quite pricey to become a vendor at a Glendale event. Having participated as a potter in many regional events for over 20 years (I no longer produce handcrafted pottery) the costs to vendors are not unreasonable. There is always overhead and there is a cost for everyone to do business whether you are in a shop or participate in outdoor events. If a vendor cannot make enough revenue to cover the costs of operation plus a profit, then that vendor should rethink its operation.

One of the essential concerns surrounding this issue rests upon the mission of Glendale’s special events. “(Kim) Larson said, ‘As the mission of Glendale’s special events is to promote and brand downtown Glendale as a destination to attract new visitors and shoppers, and foster community pride among residents, the Special Events Division does its absolute best to maximize revenue to offset our productions costs so we can continue to provide free admission to our community festivals.’” (Glendale Star, December 8, 2016). This mission statement is schizophrenic, to say the very least. The goal of cost recovery and the goal of promoting downtown Glendale are not usually compatible. So, the very first question to ask is a policy question for the Glendale city council. Should the city policy be to promote downtown Glendale (at a cost to taxpayers) or to continue to implement the goal of cost recovery?

Another question about policy comes from comments made by Erik Strunk, Glendale’s new Public Facilities, Recreation and Special Events Director, “Strunk said the city advertises the vendor application process online (via various media forms). Additionally, we have developed a master list of anyone who has applied in the past few years…This list is used each year to send a mass e-mail…and encourage interested vendors to apply.” (Glendale Star, December 22, 2016). This process seems to hint at a policy of returning to the same well, year after year, by alerting previous participants to apply. Again, another policy question for city council is evident. Will it be policy to make a concerted effort to educate and attract more local vendors or will the city rely upon past vendors, who seemingly up to this point, have been used repeatedly because the city’s past experience with them affords a level of comfort?

In Part II of Glendale First? we will look at the policies, past practices, plans, politics and the players.

© Joyce Clark, 2017        

FAIR USE NOTICE

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which is in accordance with Title 17 U.S. C., Section 107. The ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law and who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democratic, scientific and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such material. For more information go to http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use,’ you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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