Sunday, August 25, 2013

City Hall, the Local Business Community and Street Festivals

I attended the board meeting of the Plainfield Special Improvement District last week.  I wanted to ask the board for their thoughts on how city government can work more effectively with the business community.  I heard many ideas and actually got more than I bargained for since the use of downtown parking lots for "cultural" festivals was on the agenda.

The growing number of these festivals prompted much discussion and board member comments ranged from thoughtful to emotional.  Ultimately a motion was made to ask the City Council to deny the Faraones/Garcia festival request for September and it passed unanimously (eight members voting).  Here is a summary of the SID board's concerns:
  • merchants with stores near parking lot 8 where Garcia has held previous festivals estimated that they lose 20 - 40% of usual sales during festival days.
  • merchants who purchase tables for the festivals pay $800 per day and the SID board members believe that all of them are from out of town - they believe that not one downtown Plainfield merchant has participated in these festivals.
  • the SID board described the loud music and outdoor alcoholic beverage consumption as disruptive and discouraging of customer activity in downtown.  
  • Public urination, presumably related to the drinking activity, has not made for a family friendly shopping environment and according to the SID board members the smell lingers well after the festivals are done.
  • The stores near the sound stage experience music so loud that some stores literally vibrate from the music throughout the day and night.
I was unaware of the extent of these problems until the night of the August agenda fixing meeting when two downtown merchants spoke about these concerns.  When they left the meeting early, I followed them out and advised that if other merchants felt as they did, to circulate a petition around downtown and present it to the Council.  And so they did.  The number of signatures casts doubt on Mr Garcia's compliance with a stipulation in his resolution requiring he have the support of local businesses.

This should make for interesting discussion at Mondays Special Council meeting.  The Council has supported the growing number of festivals over the last 5 years because they were presented as opportunities to celebrate the cultures south of our border and bring people to our downtown.  The input we are getting now casts serious doubt on the benefits to Plainfield, especially the festivals as they currently operate.

Whatever the Council decides about the Faraones/Garcia proposal on Monday, it is clear that we need to revisit our ordinances regulating where, when and how festivals should be run.

1 comment:

Bob said...

I know I and most of my neighbors avoid downtown when these "festivals" are in force, and most of my neighbors are Hispanic. I like a few "festivals", but we need to have balance and not hurt our already hurting downtown. It sounds like the sponsors of these events make a good amount of cash and can afford to pay a higher fee to the City for the use of our property. Perhaps the county parks might be a better venue, since these "festivals" hurt downtown business, not increase it.