CLEARWATER — The Downtown Development Board could direct $30,000 to support smaller, merchant-driven events in 2019 and make other changes to how it funds events.
Board administrator Anne Fogarty France proposed several changes to the board’s process for subsidizing special events at the board’s March 6 meeting.
Every year, the board pays for events and marketing from property taxes collected from the downtown footprint; the board estimated the 2019 money at $160,000.
First, the board would set aside $30,000 for smaller, merchant-driven events open to the public, France said. Merchant-originated events include Downtown Funk, Sidewalk Sales, Art Walks and events that complemented Blast Fridays and Miracle on Cleveland Street.
Supporting street events helps downtown businesses that don’t benefit from the powerboat races and other signature events just down the hill from them, France told the board.
“While the bigger events bring people downtown, the attendees go to Coachman Park or park their chairs on the street and frequent the food vendors and not the restaurants,” she said.
If the board approves the changes, it will mark the first time a specific amount is set aside for merchant-based events, board member Lina Teixeira said.
“Nothing has been decided yet, but there would be money set aside for the smaller merchants,” she said. “A lot of merchants would like to hold events, but there is a lot of expense to that. You have to pay for police presence, fire marshal permits, parking.”
Second, the board would spend $70,000 on the signature events “to show support for the concerts and events that downtown Clearwater is known for,” France told the board. Signature events include the Sea Blues Festival, Clearwater Celebrates America (July 4 fireworks), Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Downtown Clearwater Craft Beer & Music Fest, the Festival Series (Blast Friday, Miracle on Cleveland Street, Cruisin’ at the Cap and Arts on the Road) and the Super Boat National Championship Festival.
“These events at Coachman Park, we like them, we appreciate them,” said Teixeira, who owns Pour Yours wine bar. The bar was one of four bars and eateries that received city grant money for opening on Cleveland Street last month. “We don't want to discard them, we want to work with them.”
One way the big events, such as the powerboat races and the Jazz Holiday can help downtown is to hold some of their activities in, or in front of, downtown businesses, Teixeira said. Key West, for instance, has its powerboat parade on Duval Street the night before the races begin. In New Orleans, Jazz Fest musicians book bars and restaurants across the city, ensuring music lovers enrich other cash registers.
Third, France suggested, business owners should be required to submit their funding applications 90 days before their events occur. Money will be disbursed to the merchants after the event ends and after the merchant fills out an “event completion form” that describes attendance, money taken in, unexpected costs, and other outcomes.
“Merchants, if funded, would be responsible for providing feedback to advise the board of their lessons learned,” France said.
The board could schedule event presentations over several monthly meetings and announce the winners at one meeting, possibly in August, suggested Chairman Paris Mofopoulos.
France said her staff will present a redesigned event application and other forms at the DDB’s April meeting.
Whether spending $60,000 for marketing is appropriate should also be examined, board members said. The money pays for website and social media campaigns as well as radio, TV and printed advertising to ensure high attendance at events.
City Councilmember Hoyt Hamilton urged support of downtown businesses.
“Bottom line to me is, big, small or otherwise, the more events we can bring into downtown, the more opportunity we have to bring people downtown.”
Adjusting which businesses get funds is part of the board’s mission, Teixeira said.
“If our mandate is to revitalize downtown, we really need to know if what we're doing is getting the results we want,” she said. “We're really homing in on return on investment.”