Friday, October 14, 2011

"Mixed blessing...."

There is a bit of a movement afoot downtown to perhaps amend the street closures.

You all know I've been advocating this for years.

But when they closed the streets for a bike race on First Friday in September, they finally went too far. It upset some art galleries and restaurants.

Thing is, this was going to happen sooner or later. It had to. If downtown kept hosting more and more and longer and longer events, it was bound to infringe eventually on enough businesses that someone was going to break out of the pack and complain. It happened a few years back, when me and a couple of other complained to the city councilors of the time, which is why the rules that are now in place were instituted. But like all inconvenient rules, it seems to me they've been stretched and 'exceptioned' to death.

Chuck Arnold was kind enough to include me in an e-mail stream about the subject. But until today's article in the Bulletin, "Closed Roads a Mixed Blessing in Bend," I was thinking this was privileged information and not for me to talk about. But the cat seems to be out of the bag.

I think it's interesting that an experienced restaurateur, such as Gavin McMichael, owner of the Blacksmith for many years, immediately decided that street closures on peak weekends didn't make sense and hurt business.

I've heard rumblings of the same sort from other restaurant owners over the years.

It's hard to get a business owner to say anything negative in public. At best you'll get a neutral answer. Nobody want to send out anything but positive messages.

So you have to kind of gauge peoples reactions on an cryptic scale. Mild approval is probably really neutral. Mild disapproval means they really don't like it, but don't want to say.

When the reporter called yesterday, I tried to take a mild tone -- pointing out that limiting the events only helped make the remaining events more special; that spacing them out a bit better would be more effective; looking for slower weekends or different locations downtown instead of closing streets (and parking) would be a good thing, and asking the event planners to be more mindful of the needs of downtown merchants.

I was actually kind of surprised to learn that 3 street closures were allowed in each of the summer months. That's at least one too many; and as I say in the article, I think one event per month would maximize the remaining event, and allow us to do business during our normally busy times.

In fact, I think it's backward. We need the events to occur in April and May and September and October -- when the weather is still decent and it might do us some good.

I think in mid-July is almost causes gridlock. Like all good things, too much can be a bad thing.

I'm not sanguine about the prospects of much changing. There is just too much of a lobby in support of these events: City and downtown officials, event planners, media (advertisers), vendors, and of course -- you the public who just want to right to PARTY!!!

But at least this little flurry of activity has served warning that these events are, as the headline put it, a "mixed blessing." Chuck seems to think it's some kind of communication problem -- that we aren't being warned enough or something. But I always know when the events are coming, so I think that's a red herring. It's the events themselves that can be the problem.

Without this constant reminder, they'll just keep adding events until the next time they go too far....


Duncan McGeary said...

I wonder if my blog has helped at all in this matter.

I'm hoping it at least maybe softened the ground a little over the years. So it doesn't come as a complete surprise that not all us business owners love street closures...

Duncan McGeary said...

At least the argument has progressed beyond the surprise, (Surprised! I tell you!) that any business owner would be such an ingrate as to not appreciate street closures! --- to the more nuanced measuring of the true effects.

My arguments, which I see mirrored in today's article, were: don't close the street on 'peak' weekends and months, and be more mindful of the effects on downtown businesses -- make sure the booths and activities interfere as little as possible with the customer flow.

The arguments of "too many" events, which of course I think is true but didn't think anything could be done about, has finally been broached. (I think saying they should be more reasonably spaced and that 'less is more' are good arguments.) The argument of "too similar", which I first heard from Bruce and others, is an excellent point I hadn't thought of.

I liked the argument made in the paper a month or so ago, that other venues don't close their parking spaces -- because that's just dumb. Walmart and the Old Mill and the Forum shopping center don't do this; as far as I know, towns similar in size or type such as Ashland, Albany, La Grande and Roseburg hardly ever close their streets.

Like I said, I think this concept is too entrenched to be dislodged, and the best I can hope for is a moderation.

Which is why an article that uses the word "Mixed Blessing" and treats the opposing view with at least some respect is real progress.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"We need the events to occur in April and May and September and October -- when the weather is still decent and it might do us some good."

"Decent" weather in Bend in April and May is pretty rare, based on my more than 25 years of experience here. We may get a nice weekend or two, but you can't count on it. Also the tourists haven't started coming yet. And after Labor Day the tourists pretty much go away until ski season starts in late November. So stretching the event season out as you propose wouldn't work, IMO.

Having said that, I completely agree there are too damn many "festivals" of all sorts. One per month downtown in June, July, August and September would be enough. Between those and other events in the Old Mill District, Drake Park, Northwest Crossing, etc., we'd still have more than enough "fiestas" to satisfy any reasonable appetite.

And, as I've said before, the damn things are all the same anyway.

H. Bruce Miller said...

"It's hard to get a business owner to say anything negative in public."

In this town it's hard to get ANYBODY to say anything negative about anything in public, ever. Everybody's so damned determined to be "positive" all the time that you never know what people really think.

Having grown up on the East Coast, where people are much more willing to express their opinions openly, I find this phony "positivity" very frustrating -- if not infuriating. With East Coast folks at least you know where you stand, and you can deal with it.

Leitmotiv said...

Good for you Duncan, on speaking your voice and clear reason. Is downtown for businesses or just circus spectacles? If the latter, then they should reconsider using the expo center in Redmond.

shopping monkey said...

A couple of not-so-impartial comments (as I used to be a downtown retailer): during street closures, so much hinges on what ends up in front of your business. One year we were right next to a local "Idol" singing contest. Wretched! The smokers leaned against our windows while listening, the only 'traffic' we got were people asking to use the bathroom, and regular customers had to cover their ears, even with our doors closed against the noise. Disaster. For the chevy cruise thing we always had a gigantico truck parked directly in front of our shop for several days (equipment, electrical, etc.). Another disaster. But the wine & cheese/cooking events actually brought people in. Seems like along 'artist row' there isn't much blockage of storefronts, but when you have stages, food, ponies, spectator events (i.e., usually on Minnesota Ave.), there's a lot of equipment lining the streets and sidewalks. So maybe they could alternate usage streets once in awhile.

We attended (for the first time in forever, because we now blissfully have sundays off) the last fall fest, and thought it was interesting that the artists' booths were facing inward towards each other, instead of facing storefronts. It made for kind of a cozy "allee" but certainly kept foot traffic insulated and away from storefronts. By the time we emerged from the inner row of booths, we were too tired to walk the sidewalks (and therefore the shops).

Always thought restaurants fared pretty well during these things... apparently some have not. Seems like many are packed on 1st Fridays -- when people get tired of $2 Chuck and cheap cheese, they head into the restaurants for some real food...

Yeah, don't think it would work to have street fairs on 'off' months because of weather unpredictability... and sadly, not sure there's enough local support/buyers to make for successful shows.

Maybe some shows (and farmer's market?) could move to that little park area on the other side of the bridge from the Old Mill district. It's very pleasant, has good access and lots of parking...

Anonymous said...

Welcome to hell, welcome to Bend.

Miss you all much, in China no access to for almost a month.