Steven Draheim, owner of Barrio on Wall Street, has operated a business downtown long enough to know that when the culinary street event Bite of Bend comes to town, his profits are going to be down.
So as a solution, he decided to get his own food truck to run during the festival — and operate it two blocks away from his brick-and-mortar business.
Overall, the truck has worked out, and he feels the event is well run. But he would prefer that on a busy summer weekend, people would come into his restaurant instead of the food trucks in front of it.
“I think the city has the perception that they are bringing in more businesses with these events,” Draheim said. “It’s actually fool’s gold, because they are keeping people away.”
Draheim is one of several business owners who say downtown events that close streets and parking are affecting their ability to do business. In recent weeks, about a dozen businesses have asked the City Council to consider moving certain events to parks or other parts of Bend.
But event organizers say alternative event spaces in Bend are hard to come by and that there is value in bringing people together in the downtown core.
Christmas in July
Last year, a survey conducted by the Downtown Bend Business Association found about two-thirds of businesses reported negative effects from events like Summer Festival and Bend Beer Chase that close streets and parking for long periods of time.
About half of businesses saw a decrease in sales, which many attribute to a lack of parking and having to compete with similar vendors, according to the report. Others, like coffee shops, reported having better sales days.
AJ Cohen, owner of the clothing store Local Joe, said the worst events were the ones that take away parking for a day and a half. He estimates he makes about 50% less when events are held on Saturdays.
“For retail, July and August are the Christmas months of downtown,” Cohen said. “To lose a day and a half of prime shopping doesn’t help at all .... To lose a couple of the weekends is significant.”
While the fallout businesses experience has been discussed before, the topic reemerged after City Councilor Bill Moseley mentioned business owner concerns at a meeting earlier this month. With more tourist dollars being spent in Bend, Moseley feels there is more incentive than before to have events downtown, he said. He hopes the city can work with Bend Park & Recreation District to possibly move more events into nearby parks.
“It’s hard to maintain a vibrant core when rents are as high as they are and competition from the Old Mill (District),” Moseley said. “A good downtown is the core of the town.”
A work session on the topic is set for later this summer.
For many in the business community, the ideal solution would be to move events to Drake Park or Troy Field.
“Tons of people come to the park, then they migrate to downtown. And there’s parking,” Draheim said. “It’s a win-win.”
But event organizers like Scott Douglass say that is easier said than done. Douglass, founder and CEO of Cascade Relays who runs the Bend Beer Chase, said he understands how closing downtown affects businesses, but attributes more events shifting to downtown to the limited number of event space options.
Out of 81 parks in Bend, only five are permitted for major events, with events capped between two to six days a month depending on the site. In peak months of July and August, the most popular parks, Drake and Riverbend parks, are often booked.
Troy Field, on Wall Street near City Hall, is also problematic. Because it is owned by the Bend-La Pine School District, events that have alcohol are not permitted.
Douglass said congestion downtown could be decreased by working with the parks district to expand the number of days, as well as the number of facilities, that can be used for major events.
“Each event is different — and that’s where the challenge lies,” Douglass said. “But right now we don’t have a lot of options.”
For the parks district, it’s a balancing act, said Chris Zerger, district public events program coordinator. The policy was designed 10 years ago in response to certain parks being overused and abused, she said.
“We have the policy for a reason: to balance user use,” Zerger said. “People who want to use the park might not want to be there during an event. It’s all about the district’s responsibility to balance user groups.”
Zerger also pointed out that there is generally availability to book events in Bend’s parks — it’s just that every group wants to use the same two parks in the same two months.
The parks district is building Alpenglow Park in east Bend as a multi-event park, which will hopefully alleviate some downtown congestion, Zerger said.
But for organizers like Aaron Switzer, who owns Lay It Out events and runs Summer Festival and Oktoberfest, and others, there is inherent value in having some events in the downtown core. He said his business tries to work with individual businesses to address particular parking or safety concerns.
Even if places like Troy Field could be rented, it would be too small to accommodate many of these downtown events, Switzer said.
“There’s not another place to go,” he said.
While he understands business owner concerns, he said part of creating a vibrant downtown core is through free, accessible community events.
“You can bring your family of six, and it doesn’t cost anything,” Switzer said. “I think it’s important, and that Bend should take great pride in. It’s important and vital for a community and these events that they be downtown.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, email@example.com