A few months ago, the city of Fresno announced that they would cancel the annual Christmas parade because of financial problems. The parade has been held downtown for 82 years, and has always been successful, but this year the city said they couldn’t afford it.
Fortunately, the downtown PBID (Property Business Improvement District) stepped forward to save the parade, redirecting it to the Fulton Mall (a pedestrian street). Along with the parade, there was a tree lighting ceremony at city hall, extreme sports presentations hosted by the downtown casino, and many activities for children and families (face painting and such).
According to the Fresno Bee, the events were a success
The 82nd annual Fresno Christmas Parade drew an estimated 30,000 people to the Fulton Mall and Kern Street on Saturday morning to watch floats, school bands, horses, motorcycles, entertainers and, of course, Santa Claus.
On the pedestrian mall, spectators stood more than six deep in places or perched on benches and cheered as the parade marched by. Two children in Santa hats watched the parade from atop a play structure.
I find it highly disappointing that the city would cancel the parade, and roll the dice on hoping someone would pick up the tab and organize it. While the PBID stepped forward, it is entirely possible that they wouldn’t have.
Fresno’s mayor lists downtown revitalization as one of her key platforms, and yet one can follow the money to see that a lot of the time, this claim rings hollow.
As I discussed in October, events on Fulton Mall always draw people, and that’s an excellent way to begin revitalizing downtown.
30,000 people coming to watch the parade means 30,000 people are exposed to the stores on the mall. Even if not everyone walks into the stores to shop, the exposure is always a positive. On top of that, the family atmosphere is an easy way to help dispel the myth that downtown is unsafe and hard to get to, and this makes it more likely that people will return, either for shopping or for other events.
The PBID was formed to help Fulton Mall businesses draw customers, by enacting a new tax on themselves to fund events and such. While hosting the parade does fall into this category, I think it would have made more sense for the city to continue holding the parade, and for the PBID funds go to creating new events at other points of the year. Hosting a major event every month would keep downtown and the Fulton Mall in people’s minds.
Why should the city spend tax money on something like a parade? Because sometimes, like with a private business, you have to spend money to make money. Hosting a parade means bringing people together, which in turn means local stores benefit. This of course, leads to sales tax revenue. But like I said, positive exposure to the Fulton Mall means the potential for return customers, and so a continuing increase in sales taxes. The benefits aren’t just for the mall, but visitors see stores and restaurants in nearby streets, learn where to park (or arrive by bus) and think positively of the area.
Revitalization of course, means even more revenue. If enough is done to bring people downtown, and more stores open, wasted space because productive space. Along with sales taxes, property taxes and so forth increase. And unlike with sprawl, minimal money needs to be placed into infrastructure – it’s already there. Roads, sewers, and even public parking already exist, and should be put to use.
Revitalization is an excellent use of public funds because it can pay for itself, more so than approving another far-flung development that will not bring in enough tax revenue to cover long-term costs.
And on the non-financial side, with an unemployment rate still north of 15%, the city should be doing what it can to liven spirits, and that includes free entertainment. A depressed city cannot become successful because those with resources prefer to flee rather than invest. A city with pride in its residents and its environment allows for innovation and entrepreneurship to flourish. Would you want to open your business somewhere in which people constantly say “sucks” or is “lame”? Of course not. Businesses open where there is buzz and excitement – positive thoughts – not somewhere people associate with negative thoughts.
Public investment in image and branding, via events that bring together the community will lead to economic development. Downtown revitalization must begin at city hall, but as long as the money keeps flowing north, that won’t happen. The major needs to put money where her mouth is and find funds to support things like the Christmas parade. As I’ll be writing about later this week, there’s a whole bunch of money going to things we absolutely don’t need.