Heidi Barriga

City Special Events Administrator Heidi Barriga discusses the return of one of the eliminated special event December weekends during the July 17 downtown merchant meeting.

During the July 17 downtown merchant meeting discussing the upcoming special events season, Special Events Administrator Heidi Barriga announced the city was reinstating one of the three recently eliminated weekends.

During a June council workshop, it was announced that among the changes to the special events season was the elimination of all December programming for Glendale Glitters.

After a group of merchants, along with Ocotillo District Councilmember Jamie Aldama, met with City Manager Kevin Phelps July 16, it was announced that Phelps was reinstating one of the eliminated weekends.

“I know a lot of you were in a meeting with City Manager Kevin Phelps and we wanted to let all of you know what has come from that meeting,” Barriga said. “It has been decided to restore the Dec. 14 and 15 weekend to this year’s events.”

While the city continues to make changes to the special events during the holiday season, the group of downtown merchants who met with Phelps got one weekend reinstated for the upcoming season, as well as a promise to research a possible additional weekend.

“Yes, (Phelps) did say he would crunch numbers and see if we can bring back another additional weekend to the events,” Aldama said. “He (Phelps) made the administrative decision and it is based on dollars and cents. We have been doing the same thing for 24 years and something has to change.”

Aldama added that the group of approximately 30 merchants who were in the meeting were receptive to changes, but had one request.

“This group knows there needs to be change, and they said they are all willing to accept changes, just not this year, because it is too soon,” Aldama said.

Phelps, who did not attend the July 17 meeting, said in a phone interview he is not against the special events, but he wants to see everyone get on the same page to help improve the path of redeveloping the downtown area.

“I am not saying the special events were a bad thing and I think they have done great things over the years, but we are in a vastly changing economy and it is changing quickly,” Phelps said. “We cannot continue to hold onto things that worked five to 20 years ago and are not working now.”

Cost of events

The mission of the downtown festivals, according to the special events mission statement, is “to promote and brand downtown Glendale as a destination and attract new visitors and potential shoppers to the area, while fostering community pride among its residents.”

The main issues with the events, according to staff, are the cost to the city and the return on its investment, which led to the original elimination of all December special programming weekends.

Since 2012, in a review of city costs, special events has budgeted 44 total events, with only six showing a profit for the city. Those were the Chocolate Affaire in 2012, 2013 and 2014; Glitter Spectacular in 2015; Summer Band in 2012; and Jazz Festival in 2013, the last year it was held. The total profit for those was $110,492, of which the high was $45,519 for the 2014 Chocolate Affaire and a low profit of $183 for the 2013 Jazz Festival.

Over the past seven years, the city has budgeted for a loss of $6.5 million but has lost an additional $1.6 million on top of that, which does not include 2018 since final numbers have not been completed.

“I want everyone to know that I value the downtown festivals and downtown merchants to the extent that I will always provide them a seat at the table to voice their concerns,” Aldama said. “But I have a fiduciary responsibility that tax dollars are spent wisely and efficiently and our attorney has brought to council’s attention that we are running these events at a deficit and I have to react to that and be a responsible councilmember on all aspects of this issue.”

Merchant separation

One of the main recent issues with the downtown area has been the three splintered groups — Historic Downtown Glendale, Old Towne Glendale and Catlin Court — raising concerns, all specific to their own issues instead of coming together for the entire downtown area.

In questions submitted prior to the July 17 meeting, merchants questioned the city’s support on advertising on recent events during the merchant meeting, asking specifically if during the festival season there would be any cooperative advertising or marketing opportunities for the downtown businesses in partnership with the Office of Special Events.

Barriga said during the July 17 meeting, “The city believes it is the merchants’ responsibility to market their business and the city would advertise the festivals.”

Local merchants said they felt pressure by city staff over the way they were producing Historic Downtown Business Community events, such as Christmas in July.

Yucca District Councilmember Joyce Clark told the more than 60 local merchants in attendance that they are not being denied by city staff in producing events without city approval.

“Let me say to you that there is nobody handcuffing merchants because you don’t need the city’s permission to do something and you can create any events you want,” Clark said. “The only thing the city can deny is if it needs a permit, but you are not being handcuffed at all.”

The advertisement for Christmas in July shows the three divisive groups as it lists Historic Downtown Glendale, Old Towne and Catlin Court as sponsors. During the July 17 meeting, merchants announced that approximately 30 of them signed a petition guaranteeing they would remain open until 9 p.m. during the holiday events.

“There are over 100 merchants in the downtown area and only a third agreed to remain open and that is disappointing,” Clark said.

Among the rumors Aldama wanted to clear up was that the group of downtown merchants was trying to take over running the events.

“I want to clear that up, absolutely not, the downtown merchants do not want to take over running these events,” Aldama said. “What they said was they are the eyes and ears on the ground and they want to help improve the events. It was a rumor they wanted to run the events, when in actuality, they just want a seat at the table to help the city improve the events.”

During the merchant meeting with Phelps, the group asked if it was possible to bring back all the eliminated weekend events or at least bring back one or more weekends. While the group got one weekend reinstated, Aldama said he was surprised it was announced the day after the merchant meeting.

“While they got one weekend back, and Phelps said he would crunch the numbers to possibly add another weekend, it came at the cost of the fireworks that staff was going to have at the first weekend,” Aldama said. “I am happy with getting back the additional weekend and if (Phelps) sent staff here to announce it that is a good thing, but I was surprised it was announced.”

Phelps added that during the meeting with merchants, he asked if they thought the downtown business community was healthy or if it was trending downward.

“None of the merchants said they disagreed with that (question),” Phelps said. “I told them, ‘Why should we continue in the current trend if it is not positive and is not working to assist them and their businesses?’”

Coming together?

Aldama pointed out that during the recent meeting between Phelps and the approximately 30 merchants, the groups were beginning to work together after years of working against each other. Merchants also pointed to a recent online survey that showed the events are wanted by citizens.

“There is information out there that people like our events and want them to continue,” Aldama said. “As a councilmember, I will always fight for what my constituents want and make sure they have a voice in the discussions.”

The online petition, which was recently submitted to councilmembers and city staff, had 958 signatures with all but one asking that city continue with the events. Aldama said that while the petitions showed people want the downtown events, things need to change.

“I know the merchants expressed that they believe tradition needs to remain when it comes to these events, but at what cost should we do that?” Aldama said. “I believe that if we have the revenues and can provide events that bring the community, citizens and businesses together, I believe that is a good thing. What the merchants wanted to express was that these changes are happening really quick and they just want a voice at the table. Now that they appear to be working together, and it is four years in the making to get them together, they can help the city improve the events and make them the best they can be.”

Phelps added while he is not against the holiday events, he would like to see more downtown area events, which he believes would make the businesses vibrant again.

“If we do this right, I believe Downtown Glendale could be viewed as a model on how cities can redevelop their downtown areas,” Phelps said. “We are not the only city struggling to keep their downtown areas healthy, but I think if we do this and get 150-200 programmed days a year in downtown, then you will see more private investment in the downtown area.”