Worries about the future of Lawrence’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade; a new amenity for Downtown Farmers’ Market
You should never need an excuse to break out the cowboy hat and yell “Hi Ho Silver,” but you again will have one. The Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade for the 24th year will be in downtown Lawrence this holiday season. But organizers are in need of some silver — and not just horses with that name. (Confused younger generation: Google the phrase “Lone Ranger,” and let’s all vow to work the phrase “hi ho” into more conversations.)
The parade is set for 11 a.m. on Dec. 3 and will follow the same route as usual, with the prime viewing locations being along Massachusetts Street between Seventh and 13th streets. For those of you unfamiliar with the parade, it is one of the few entirely horse-drawn parades in the country. Horses, wagons, carriages, buggies and surreys (confused younger generation: none of us know what a surrey is either) come from all over the Midwest, and many of them are decked out with their finest Christmas ornamentation.
There was a bit of a rumor that the parade wouldn’t take place this year. That was never true, but there is worry about the financial future of the parade. Unfortunately, financial worry about the parade has become commonplace in recent years. But this year’s worry comes with a different twist.
Back in 2014, I reported that the parade was facing financial difficulties after its prime corporate sponsor pulled out. But then an anonymous donor came riding in on a white horse with a pledge of $5,000 per year for the next three years. The donor, however, didn’t make the pledge directly to the parade, which never has organized as a 501(c)3, but instead made the pledge to the Lawrence Arts Center. The Arts Center passed the money along, had its name added to the parade’s marketing materials, and all was good.
But then in July, parade organizers received an email from then Arts Center CEO Susan Tate notifying them that the $5,000 donation would not be available this year. The letter made no mention of the anonymous donor, but rather bemoaned a cut in Arts Center funding proposed by City Manager Tom Markus. Tate labeled the cut to the Arts Center funding as “unnecessary,” and said it showed “little awareness on the part of the city that the Arts Center is an enthusiastic and generous partner in many outside efforts that enhance quality of life, economic development and awareness of our cultural district.” For good measure, Tate’s letter also criticized the Journal-World’s coverage of the proposed cut.
All that was a lead-up to notification that the parade would not receive the $5,000 donation. Parade organizers, though, were confused. They thought the anonymous donor had specifically earmarked the donation for support of the parade.
Marty Kennedy, the former Lawrence mayor who is one of the organizers of the parade, said he reached out to the Arts Center but the Arts Center was in transition — Tate was in the process of leaving and new CEO Kimberly Williams was in the process of arriving — and he didn’t hear much.
I reached out to the Arts Center recently and got more clarification. After doing some checking, chief communications officer Sarah Bishop told me that the anonymous donor changed the earmark on his donation after learning of the center’s approximately $55,000 cut in city funding.
“The donor stipulated that the donation stay with the Arts Center,” Bishop said.
Upon learning that, parade organizer Patty Kennedy told me she was understanding. And to be clear, parade organizers were more confused than angry at the Arts Center. And for their part, Arts Center officials say they are sad that they aren’t able to donate to the parade this year.
“The $55,000 cut in city funding made it hard for us to do some of the extra things that we do,” Bishop said. “We love the parade and really value it, but it is not essential to our operations. We have had to repurpose that money. But we would love to find a way to support it in the future.”
All that aside, the parade is facing an unexpected $5,000 deficit. The shortfall won’t sink this year’s parade because it has some reserves that it can use to put on the event that costs about $30,000 in actual cash and another $20,000 in donated services. (The parade draws a large number of participants because it undertakes the expense of providing a hotel room, a meal and horse boarding to each participant.)
The funding concern is mainly related to the 2017 parade. If this year’s parade depletes all its reserves this year, it could be in a perilous position for 2017. Plus, this year’s parade only has about 15 of the normal 60 small business and individual sponsors that it normally receives, although the solicitation process isn’t yet complete. (That’s a nice way of saying potential donors are still likely to get a few more calls.)
“To make up the $5,000 that we’ve lost, we would need to get about 20 more individual sponsors,” Patty Kennedy said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know where we are going to come up with 20 more sponsors.”
The parade does receive $8,000 in transient guest tax money from the city of Lawrence. The parade has asked for $10,000 in guest tax funds, but didn’t have its request fully funded during the 2016 cycle.
Marty Kennedy said parade organizers would rather find a major corporate sponsor than ask for more city funding.
“I know the city doesn’t want us using that guest tax fund every year,” Kennedy said. “They would like us to find that corporate sponsor.”
The parade at various times had had a bank and a financial services firm serve as lead sponsors for the parade. But finding a major corporate sponsor has been difficult. Lawrence is lots of things, but a town with lots of large corporations, it is not.
Seeking more money from the city’s guest tax fund seems like a possibility. The parade always draws tens of thousands of people to downtown Lawrence. How many of them stay the night in a hotel room and thus pay the guest tax is a little unclear. Parade organizers said they hope to gather better data about that this year.
The city has a relatively new grant application program for events seeking guest tax funding. It has a $15,000 cap on how much any one event can receive. That cap didn’t receive much public discussion, but perhaps should have. I think there may be some questions of philosophy on how that fund should be used. Among them:
— There is a belief that the guest tax fund should be used to fund events that generate lots of hotel bookings, since hotel stays are what produces the guest tax revenue. There’s some logic to that, but there’s a counter argument too. If we used that logic with regular old sales tax collections, we would only use sales tax money to fund things that produced more retail spending. The city certainly hasn’t taken that approach with sales tax dollars. Even if the Christmas parade doesn’t put a lot of heads in hotel beds, it undoubtedly helps build the image of Lawrence as a unique and vibrant community. That image, more than any one event, is probably the most valuable asset to the Lawrence tourism industry.
— City officials need to decide whether the guest tax grant program is meant to simply be an incubator for new events. In other words, is the grant program designed to provided some needed seed money to new events? That’s one idea. Another would be that the grant program is used to significantly support a handful of signature events in the community. Determining what is a signature event probably would be a messy political process. The parade certainly doesn’t have the market cornered in that regard. As we have reported, the Arts Center’s Free State Festival is worried about its funding future too. There would be no shortage of events that believe they should be considered a signature event worthy of city funding. Truth be told, there is no shortage of events in Lawrence today. There is a shortage of businesses able to fund them all.
Where that leaves funding for future parades is unclear. Those of you wanting to make a donation to the parade can do so by getting in contact with Marty or Patty Kennedy at Lawrence’s Kennedy Glass.
For those of you wanting to take my advice and Google the Lone Ranger, I have bad news: My wife has discovered Johnny Depp was in the 2013 Lone Ranger movie. The internet may be tied up for awhile.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Well, we know where horses go to the bathroom at in downtown Lawrence, but I’m pretty sure they are the only ones that can get away with that. Attendees of downtown’s Lawrence Farmers' Market have good news on that front. For the first time in it its history, the Farmers' Market now has nice bathrooms for patrons and vendors.
As part of the recently completed 888 Lofts building at Eighth and New Hampshire street, the Lawrence-based development group First Management Construction agreed to install first-floor bathrooms that would be open to the patrons of the Farmers' Market. The market operates in the city-owned parking lot adjacent to the new apartment/office building.
The market held a ribbon-cutting last weekend for the bathrooms. As far as I know it is one of the very few ribbon-cuttings that used toilet paper in place of the ribbon.
The market previously could only offer portable toilets on site. Leaders of the Farmers' Market said they’re excited about the addition.
“This is not just a celebration of some new bathrooms. It is also a celebration of how a business does something special for our community,” said Olivia Taylor-Puckett, manager of the Farmers' Market. “Real bathrooms may seem like a simple addition to the market, but this is of great support to our vendors and customers. The more people feel comfortable coming to the market, the more they stay and bring their business to local farmers.”
As I watch the snow on my sidewalk continue to not melt, the summer staple of a homegrown tomato sure sounds good right about now.
This summer, you may have a new farmers market location to buy one. Well, sort of.
Leaders with the Lawrence Farmers Market are proposing a plan to city commissioners to move their Tuesday and Thursday markets to a new downtown location.
Market board members want to move the weekday markets to a spot that is closer to their Saturday market, which is held in the long-term city parking lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire street.
But during the weekdays, that lot is heavily used by downtown employees, so market organizers are proposing a twist. They want city permission to set up vendor booths in the wide grassy area that is between the long-term lot and Rhode Island Street. If your internal Google map is not functioning currently, the area is the city right-of-way just east of the parking lot. It currently serves as a landscaped buffer area between Rhode Island Street and the sidewalk that runs along the eastern edge of the parking lot.
Market organizers estimate the 3,000-square-foot area could accommodate a dozen or so vendor booths. That will put the booths fairly close to the street, but Rhode Island is one of the lesser traveled streets in downtown. City commissioners are expected to receive the request at a special year-end meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday. (Yes, I know the year ended on Tuesday, but perhaps City Hall is using Congress’ Fiscal Cliff calendar.)
Commissioners are expected to ask staff members to study the feasibility of the proposed location.
Whether it is this location or somewhere else, the market will need a new space for its Tuesday market. It has been held for many years in the city parking lot in the 1000 block of Vermont Street. The lot hasn’t traditionally attracted many vehicles, so there always has been plenty of room for the market.
But that has changed. Treanor Architects has completed its project to convert the former Strong’s Office Supply building into a new headquarters for the architecture firm.
The completely revamped and expanded building — which is just south of the parking lot — is now open and housing about 60 employees. Parking demand in the lot has become significantly higher.
The proposed change, however, also represents a shift in strategy for the farmers market’s Thursday event. Last year the market used Thursdays to hold a West Lawrence market at 1121 Wakarusa Drive.
I haven’t yet chatted with any board members of the market, but the group’s letter to City Hall indicates the organization wants to again focus on downtown.
“The Lawrence Farmers Market has a need to regain a cohesive identity as a single market at a single location,” according to the letter. “Moving the weekday markets to 800 Rhode Island is the simplest, cheapest and most effective way to improve our marketing, reduce administrative costs and serve a broader customer base.”
Market organizers are asking that about 10 of the parking spaces in the city’s long-term lot in the 800 block of New Hampshire be reserved as a loading and unloading area for market vendors.
It will be interesting to see if the city gives the green light to the new plan. Early on, there had been some talk about moving the Farmers Market to the new outdoor plaza area that will be created as part of the $19 million public library expansion.
The plans for the parking garage include public restrooms, which were thought to be a drawing card for the farmers market.
But the farmers market may get its restrooms at its current location. A representative with the development group that plans to build a multi-story apartment building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets previously has indicated the ground floor of the building will include restrooms designed to serve the adjacent farmers market.
I’m guessing that both the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — and market organizers are keen on the idea of the market staying near the Ninth and New Hampshire intersection.
The intersection already has one multi-story apartment building and plans are in the work for one more, plus a multi-story, extended stay hotel. That’s a lot of new residents who would be within walking distance of the market.
It also will be interesting to see what the move may do to the Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market. Last year the hardware store at 1832 Massachusetts St. hosted a popular market in its parking lot from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays.
I guess time will tell on that one. Now, the question is whether time will clear my sidewalk of snow, or will my wife stick a snow shovel in my hands?