Right now, the issue of special events at City Dock is the most visible element in the ongoing public discussion of what is best for downtown. Consistently, since 2006 (the date from which we have records of events approved in the City application process), City Dock has been the site of 27-32% of all events held in Annapolis. Conflict over what events should be at City Dock, when, and how, has been a hallmark of special events approval for years.
There is a glaring need for consistent policies and procedures relating to special events downtown: From a macro perspective, we need policies for what types of events we want and under what conditions. From a micro perspective, we need procedures to ensure that event-specific community concerns are identified and addressed to the extent possible. We especially need to improve the communication and notification process so that all stakeholders know about events well in advance.
This year, after inviting input from a variety of stakeholders, the City will adopt clear policies and procedures to address this need. A number of organizations are already engaged in this issue. The Annapolis Business Association (ABA) has an events committee, and the Downtown Annapolis Partnership (DAP) has a marketing and promotions committee, both of whom are reviewing the issues.
I have tasked Michelle LeFurge, the City’s development and special projects coordinator, to take the lead for the administration in gathering public input and developing a draft set of guidelines for the City Council to consider.
In September, Ms. LeFurge will brief the City Council with draft recommendations. Ultimately, the City Council will deliberate, take public input, and establish a uniform policy that we can implement for 2012 and beyond.
Ms. LeFurge has identified several key areas of focus:
- Supporting downtown businesses
We all agree on the need to support downtown businesses, especially during this economic downturn. There is less agreement about the extent to which festivals and special events help or hurt businesses. Our business community is not uniform and is comprised of retailers, restaurants, bars and other shops. Each festival attracts different people who are more likely to patronize certain businesses but not others. Any policy whose goal is to expand the economic pie for businesses needs to acknowledge that no event will benefit all businesses equally.
- Creating a vibrant downtown
Similarly, we all agree that City Dock is the civic gathering space for all of Annapolis, but there is less agreement about what events, if any, are a benefit to our local community. There is no “one size fits all” event that is attractive to every Annapolitan; our interests, cultures and demographics are too diverse. Boaters enjoy our maritime events; fitness buffs enjoy our triathlons and runs; families and kids of all ages enjoy our music festivals. Just as each event benefits different businesses in different ways, so too does each event attract Annapolitans to different degrees.
- Vendors in the Historic District
Not only are festivals and events an issue, so is the question of whether or not to allow vendors at those events. Several businesses object to vendors competing for their customers’ dollars. On the other hand, the fees that vendors pay to participate in festivals allow the organizers to cover their costs without having to charge admission to the public.
Vendors in the historic district require City Council approval unless their operation directly supports an approved non-profit. This year, the annual Summer at City Dock, Kunta Kinte and Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association (CBYRA) events have all been in the planning stages for months with the expectation that they would be allowed. I have introduced City Council resolutions to authorize these events to proceed this year. The City Council will hold a public hearing and vote on these resolutions this Monday, July 25th.
This is a transition year. The issues surrounding the triathlon, Summer at City Dock and other events have spotlighted a number of concerns that need to be addressed. These issues need the input of all stakeholders. I encourage you, either individually or working through your civic and business groups, to participate and make your voice heard. You can contact Ms. LeFurge directly at 410-263-7996 or by email. Although the dialogue can be messy at times, I am confident that we will emerge from this transition year with a clear and consistent set of policies and procedures that will be fair and reasonable for all concerned.