July 18, 2012 - Backyards & Burgers will return to downtown Oxford next year, but it will do so minus the carnival.
On Monday night, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) voted 7-0 to cancel the carnival and send the Livonia-based Wade Shows, Inc. a letter asking to be released from its contract.
"I have had casual conversations with them and the consensus is that they do not want to come into a town where they're not necessarily wanted," said DDA Director Madonna Van Fossen. "I explained that it wasn't that we didn't want them, it was just the logistics of everything and the numbers didn't match up . . . I don't believe there's going to be any repercussions for us to ask to be released from this contract."
The DDA has another two years left on its contract with Wade Shows.
Officials made their decision based on two things. The first was a report showing that while the DDA earned $21,620 in profits from the four-day carnival held in downtown's southeast quadrant parking lot in May, the businesses who responded to a survey indicated they experienced a net loss in retail sales totalling $71,142.
Most of the financial loss was attributed to the parking shortages that resulted from the carnival closing one of downtown's main four lots.
The second was a July 9 focus group, which consisted of business owners, citizens and government officials. A vote was taken at this meeting – six voted to eliminate the carnival, three voted to keep it in the southeast quadrant and two voted to move it to a new location.
"There's no other place in the DDA district where, logistically, the carnival could be held," Van Fossen noted. "That parking lot was the only location where a carnival of that size could go . . . That was determined when we started this (event) two years ago. Taking it outside of the DDA district, (that would be) defeating the purpose of having it."
Besides, "our DDA funds have to be spent within the DDA district, so that was kind of a fine line we were going to be walking there, moving it outside of the DDA district," Van Fossen added.
It was the overall negative financial impact on downtown businesses that weighed most heavily in the DDA's decision to nix the carnival.
"The DDA's responsibilities are primarily as a economic development group," Van Fossen said. "While the DDA did raise some revenues, when you get it down to . . . what the businesses lost or gained . . . the numbers just weren't there to support the carnival."
DDA board members agreed.
"I think initially we really had good intentions with bringing this event in," said DDA Chairman Don Sherman. "It's a struggle, I think, for us at times to understand what the unintended consequences (of our actions are) . . . Our charge is to do economic development and if we're having business owners come to us and say that they're suffering financially because of an event we're doing, we have to take that very seriously."
"We had a little uptick in sales (due to the extra foot-traffic from the carnival), but not very much," said DDA board member Jim Bielak, who owns Beadifferent.
Although making money for the DDA is a "great cause," Bielak doesn't believe it's a good idea to do so "at the expense of most of the other retailers and business owners."
"I would recommend disbanding the carnival, if we can get out of the contract," he said.
"Like everyone, I saw an uptick in people downtown, which was very nice to see," said DDA board member Tom Jones, who owns Funky Monkey Toys.
Jones noted his business was "up slightly," but he couldn't justify keeping the carnival "with so many other business owners saying that it was not effective for them." He noted that perhaps things could be different if it was possible to close both sides of Burdick St. and hold the carnival there instead of using a parking lot.
"I'm very torn about the carnival," said DDA board member Anna Taylor, owner of Pink & Charlie. "We're here to generate economic development and in order to do economic development you have to have the funds to do (it). The carnival was a good money-maker for the DDA."
But it was a different story for private enterprise.
"My business, personally, did not really see any kind of major uptick in sales. A little bit, but not really," Taylor explained. "The beginning of the week was a total bust because the parking lot was closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (while the carnival was being set up). Until the people started coming into town, I was dead."
Taylor indicated she has to be "respectful of her neighbors" when it comes to viewing the carnival's overall impact. "Unfortunately, my neighbors were really having a hard time," she said. "They really struggled with the parking lot being closed. It's a very difficult situation. All in all, I just think that, as a board, we're going to have to find other avenues to do fund-raising for our projects.
"It's unfortunate that (the carnival) didn't work out, but you try to do your best and you have good intentions. I think that we did really good work based on the obstacles that we had to overcome during the week. But . . . the carnival is just not a fit for the only place that we can really put it."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.