Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The “Standard Event” as a method of revitalizing your downtown, by Barry Cassidy

The “Standard Event” as a method of revitalizing your downtown
One of the issues that towns struggle with all the time is how to bring more people downtown.  There is nothing like putting people on the street as a way to give your town the feel of revitalization.  If the town has had a “heyday’ in the past people will always compare what happens in a revitalization to the “heyday”. 
Comments like “I remember when people were walking 4 abreast and the sidewalks were so crowded you could not walk down the street”. That “thrilling days of yesteryear” benchmark is a pretty high standard.  I am not sure if that means if the sidewalks are not jammed you are a failure.  I know of very few revitalization efforts that could meet that standard.
There are ways of creating buzz and getting people to take notice of a town and the effort to revitalize.  The method is to create a standard event in the downtown area to be revitalized.  This creates a constant for those seeking to visit.  A standard event is just that, something that happens regularly and people need not think about whether or not it will happen.  I am big on standard events.
I like to make my standard events something that is unique and entertaining.  I will use the Phoenixville model as an example.  In Phoenixville we decided to start a standard event on Fridays during the year.  We called it First Friday and we copied it from Olde City’s version of the gathering. 
After a year of First Fridays, which are held year round, we decided to have a similar celebration every Friday during the summer.  We entitled it the Summer Street Music Series and First Fridays were still First Fridays but it was part of the standard experience we then offered every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day (14 weeks).
I remember like it was yesterday our first concert that was not a First Friday, it was June 8th 2005.  We had “Beatlemainia Now!” on the rooftop of the old District Court Building recreating the Beatle’s Rooftop Concert.  We had about 500 people sitting on the ground below watching in utter awe as the concert took place.  It was a genuine happening. I remember being on the roof with Bill Haley (422 Business Advisor Publisher), Manny DeMutis and Dave Chawaga thinking to myself…”wow this is better then my best expectations”.
When the concert was over and we announced we were doing something like this every Friday I knew we had 500 people who were going to tell their neighbors and friends what happened and how good the concert was.  In those days 500 people was a pretty good crowd for a Friday.  Normally there would be a couple of dozen people throughout the night. 
We found was a niche in the regional marketplace.  No town was doing what we were doing or at least with the frequency we were doing it.  There was genuine “white space” in the market when it came to providing boatloads of free entertainment on the street.  We did not try to be fancy and tried to keep it real basic.  I remember after we did a few of concerts a concert attendee who described our event as “humble” in the newspaper. 
A standard event is an event that happens on a certain day at a certain time.  In our case we were every Friday during the summer.  You do not need a lot of money to create a standard event.  We did not do much advertising but instead we let the word of mouth build.  Those 500 people went back and told others who attended a future performance and they told others and alas the project was a success.
The real power in the event was that it happened on a regular basis and people knew they could come downtown and be entertained.  It made it easier for people to decide to come downtown because although they did not know what was going on, they realized something would be happening.  Recently when I was recruiting a business to locate in the downtown one of the things he told me was that he liked the fact that he knew he could come to town on a Friday and knew that there would be something going on.
I did the same thing on South Street in Philadelphia.  It is not really even necessary to advertise that much, when you have something good, people will find it and remember when it is happening. 
The standard event does not have to be something spectacular.  It can be something smaller that will interest people.  A regular lecture series, art show, chess matches….something that will be of interest to people.
People like to be with people…no one likes to be the only one in a bar or at an event so the lack of critical mass could work against organizations using this strategy in the short term but if the event warrants attention people will start to show up to take part.
Initially we tried to create an art show on Fridays in 2004 but it was not the right set of circumstances because I lacked sufficient mass of artists to make it a real show.  We decided to add music and everything turned around for the event in 2005.  It was hard to get an artist to sit and sell his wares if there was not enough foot traffic…it was easier to hire a musician who had to stay because he was getting paid. 
This strategy demands a couple of things, repetition,  perseverance, and an infinite amount of patience but can become the cornerstone of your revitalization

1 comment:

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