Some events in downtown Bend are going to look a little different next year in response to concerns that they disrupt business.
For the past couple of years, downtown merchants have complained about downtown events that close main thoroughfares, like Fall Fest and Bite of Bend. In a survey done last year by the Downtown Bend Business Association, 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.
So in response, Lay It Out Events — which organizes the majority of downtown events — has proposed about a dozen changes to help ease the impact.
“Our mission with these festivals is to create win-win (situations),” said Aaron Switzer, who owns Lay It Out Events.
After hearing the concerns in a presentation to the Bend City Council by the business community in September, Switzer said he and his team started knocking on doors and getting feedback on what changes could be made.
A list of 14 ideas were then presented to the downtown business association this month, including suggestions to reconfigure how events are laid out and launching a new app that drives foot traffic to retailers during events by setting up a scavenger hunt through local businesses.
“I think the outcome and what we’re going to see from the festivals is going to be a better experience for everybody,” he said.
One of the biggest changes will be moving the location of the main stage during the summer and fall festivals, Switzer said, although he declined to say where it will placed.
For the past several years, the stage that hosts a variety of musicians and other acts was located at the corner of Bond Street and Oregon Avenue.
The musical stage will also rotate to different locations during the food festival Bite of Bend, he said. The idea is that by moving around the stage, the same businesses won’t be impacted year after year.
“Obviously, it’s a big risk on our part ... but it’s worth it for us,” Switzer said.
One idea that is particularly exciting is a newly established downtown business liaison position at Lay It Out Events, said Mindy Aisling, executive director of the Downtown Bend Business Association. The liaison, who was hired about a month ago, is charged with working with businesses during events to respond to concerns or problems related to festivals.
Reorganizing the craft and art booths into the center of the road rather than along the sides should also help businesses, Aisling said, because the booths will no longer obscure business fronts.
“We consider this a huge success,” Aisling said. “We are in a rapidly growing city, and that means we have to respond quickly as things change.”
For Aisling, the changes are the product of a long term, collaborative effort between the business association and event organizers, and stands as an example of how Bend can work together as a community to solve problems, she said.
But there are several concerns that still need to be addressed.
A meeting in January is scheduled with the city to look into how many events should be allowed downtown, and how long they should last.
In the past, businesses have said multiday long events dissuade potential customers from coming downtown.
But City Councilor Chris Piper, who acts as a liaison to the downtown association, said these changes are a good place to start.
“This meeting is a huge step forward for the city, and most importantly for the merchants,” Piper said. “We’re really experiencing a great collaboration effort.”