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Terrific job on burger report, ditch the carnival



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June 27, 2012 - Competency, diligence and honesty are rare things in government, so whenever they're spotted, they should be praised and recorded for posterity.

That's why I'm shining the spotlight this week on Maria Martin, administrative assistant for the Oxford Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Last week, Martin presented a report she compiled on how the Backyards & Burgers event, held back in May, impacted downtown merchants. See story on Page 1.

Based on the feedback she received, the event ultimately resulted in a net loss of $71,142 in retail sales for the 20 or so businesses that were gracious enough to share their figures with Martin.

Too often in government, when there's bad news, officials try to put a positive spin on things to detract from the truth. It's like they've clutched at that charlatan Norman Vincent Peale and swallowed him whole.

To her credit, Martin – whose business background is a true asset – didn't do this. She presented her findings in a clear and concise manner, then made no bones about the fact that things must change next year.

"If we're an economic development body, we need to be making sure that all our activities and all of the events that we host are economically developing the district," she said.

Well said. I couldn't agree more.

The DDA's job is not to be some sort of community social director that puts on fun events simply to entertain folks – that's why we have a parks and recreation department, which is quite good at that sort of thing.

The DDA has only one real purpose – help local merchants thrive and prosper.

Any DDA event that adversely affects merchants' sales is a failure – no matter how much foot-traffic is generated, no matter how many folks say they had a good time, no matter how much profit is earned by the government entity.

In light of this $71,142 loss, I'm glad Martin recognized this event needs to be completely revamped. I'm glad she's seeking input from businesses and residents on how to make it more successful from an economic development standpoint.

For what it's worth, I firmly disagree with the idea that the carnival needs to be relocated.

To me, the carnival needs to be eliminated, period.

As Martin so astutely observed, "The carnival itself is a destination" – a destination that costs the average family of four $140 between rides and concessions, leaving little or no extra money for shopping local stores.

That's reason Number One to nix it. The carnival is something that competes with or overshadows local merchants and eateries as opposed to complementing them.

Granted, it generates lots of foot-traffic, but I question how many of those folks really paid attention to or visited the local businesses that separated the carnival from where they parked their vehicles? My guess is because the carnival is a "destination," many folks, especially those with children, suffered from tunnel vision during their visit. Downtown was simply the background, not the destination.

Reason Number Two to ditch the carnival is the fact that 80 percent of the profits leave town when the company packs up and heads out. The DDA receives the other 20 percent in profits, which this year translated into $21,620.

Either way, these profits aren't benefiting local businesses by helping to improve their bottom-line. These profits are benefiting an out-of-town enterprise that pays not one red cent in local taxes and a government entity that should not be making money at the expense of businesses.

Reason Number Three – We already have one carnival that comes to town for the Seymour Celebration. We really don't need two.

Reason Number Four – There's absolutely nothing unique, distinct or remotely local about a traveling carnival. It doesn't say "Oxford!" It says, "Same carnival, different town, yawn." It's no different than the million other carnivals used as revenue-generators by other communities, churches, schools and service clubs.

Oxford events should be uniquely Oxford. Examples of this can be found all around us in other communities.

Holly has the Dickens Festival. Leonard has the Strawberry Festival. Lake Orion has Dragon on the Lake. Ortonville has its Septemberfest.

Town festivals should be celebrations of everything communities have to offer visitors. They should be a chance to showcase local dining, shopping and entertainment opportunities in the best possible light, not hide them behind a Ferris Wheel and greasy corn dogs.

I like the fact that Martin wants to emphasize the backyards and burgers elements more and bring them to the forefront next year. Local events don't need traveling carnivals to attract visitors and be fun. All it takes is some imagination, hard work and the willingness to make it happen.

Overall, I think Martin's analysis was insightful, her approach to changing things is spot-on and I'm confident that as a result, Backyards & Burgers will be beneficial to local businesses next year – as it should be.

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.
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