The Yankton City Commission had a really fascinating budget discussion Monday night about holding more events in the city to improve the quality of life and becoming more aggressive with retail development.
In speaking with residents here, I know both are very important issues with them.
The story below ran in the Press & Dakotan today, but I had to make quite a few cuts to it for the printed version. Here I am able to run the uncut version, so to speak. It has more details of the discussion.
Again, given how important these issues are, I thought some of my readers may appreciate the additional information.
The Yankton City Commission was in agreement during a budget session this week that it wants to support more events that improve the quality of life in the community and get more aggressive about promoting retail development.
However, the question came down to how best to accomplish those goals given limited budgetary resources.
During an hour-long discussion Monday, the commission debated the merits of creating an events coordinator position, a retail development position and other possible solutions.
Parks and Recreation Director Todd Larson said he had been looking at a concept of the city holding a significant event approximately every month with an event coordinator responsible for organizing them.
Among the events he proposed the city could put on using paid staff were:
• a summer-through-fall farmer’s market in Riverside Park on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The Tuesday events could be linked to the summer concert series in the park, Larson noted;
• a concert in Memorial Park the first Saturday in June that could also incorporate sports tournaments like three-man basketball, sand volleyball and horseshoes;
• expanding the Fourth of July celebration to include sports tournaments, a beer garden, food vendors and inflatable rides for children;
• a two-day blues festival in August;
• a possible air show at Chan Gurney Airport in October;
• a fun run/walk in conjunction with a Veteran’s Day event in November;
• building on Bald Eagle Days in January;
• building on the annual winter festival held in February;
• a geocaching event in April; and
• a Cinco de Mayo event in May.
For the larger events, Larson said some of the costs could be recouped by bidding out sponsorships.
“We think there’s value there,” he stated, saying naming rights could go for $10,000, for example. “(Former City Manager Doug Russell) had a strong feeling we could sell some of these events pretty easily that way.”
Questions arise if the city began to assist nonprofits with their events, Larson admitted. How revenues would be shared or shortfalls filled are examples, he said.
“Concept-wise, it was never to take over anybody’s events in town, it was to supplement and add to what is already going on,” Larson stated. “Will the events attract people from out of town? Yes. But that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is, we want people in Yankton to have more to do and have more positive things to say about Yankton.”
Commissioners said the idea was a good one but all were leery of hiring a full-time events coordinator.
When asked, Larson said his department could accomplish at least some of the events without a new organizer. However, Interim City Manager Al Viereck said holding an event a month at current staff levels would be next to impossible.
“You’re going to tax his staff so badly that they’re going to leave him, even his part-time staff,” he stated.
Viereck pointed out that Russell put a significant amount of time into organizing the 150th celebration in 2011, and he was able to tap into different city departments for assistance. Larson would not have the same ability, he stated.
The success of the 2011 concert was a benchmark throughout the discussion.
“The reason we’re talking about (an events coordinator), in my opinion, is because how the 150th worked out,” Commissioner Paul Lowrie said. “It was a very light load on the community. That was the positive experience out of that. We were able to do something larger and manage it because we had city backing and staff doing everything.”
When it comes to other organizations needing assistance with events, Commissioner Charlie Gross said the Yankton Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) is available to help.
“The fact that the Chamber of Commerce can’t find volunteers to do the Fourth of July is why the city now has that as a parks function,” he added, referring to the Fourth of July fireworks celebration being taken over by the city in recent years. “If we make (an events coordinator) available, we’ll end up with a lot more than July 4 events. We’re letting everyone else off the hook.”
Gross suggested that the lack of volunteers indicates the public does not really care about whether an event like the Fourth of July is held.
“One thing the CVB definitely cannot do is the logistics of pulling off a large event like a blues fest,” Lowrie said. “They’re going to have the same thing where they say, ‘Increase our budget so we have someone who can do that.’ One thing the city has is a staff where, when appropriate, can be applied to some of these things.”
A lack of volunteers does not indicate community disinterest, Commissioner David Knoff said.
“The Fourth of July is a perfect example,” he stated. “If you don’t think it’s that important of a deal to the community because the Chamber doesn’t want to do it, then let’s quit doing it. Then (the public will) come in here, set us all on fire, shoot us and do everything else. They want the event. They just don’t want to step up to it. They want to go to it.
“People volunteer their time, but it’s easy to get burned out because nine people end up carrying the load,” Knoff continued. “I don’t think it’s a function of people not wanting the events. I think … taxpayers are willing to let their tax dollars go toward making the events happen. They would rather pay taxes and have the city do the event than do it themselves … Volunteers do wonderful things, but to take it to another level to actually get quality concerts and events, I think Riverboat Days is the exception to the rule. I think most of the time, you’re going to have to provide assistance to make that happen.”
Knoff said that, if an events coordinator were hired, the commission would have to do so with the knowledge they may have to be let go in a year or two if things don’t work out.
“Todd, as long as you’re comfortable with that, I may be willing to take a risk on something like that,” he stated.
Would A Retail Development Position Make More Sense?
Guiding the discussion, Mayor Nancy Wenande asked if adding a retail development position instead of an events coordinator would make more sense.
Several commissioners said having someone to promote retail growth in the community is a higher priority than an events coordinator.
“It’s nice to think the developers will come to us, but Menards didn’t come to us,” Wenande said. “We went to the developer, and we pushed it. ‘We’ being Doug and the city. Someone had to make that connection. Someone had to go after it. They weren’t just going to come knocking on our doorstep.
“If we want to be aggressive and really become a player in southeast South Dakota, we need to have someone lead us in that direction,” she continued. “Is it going to be our new city manager? Quite possibly. But if not, should we have someone driving that for us? Absolutely. I don’t think any of the nine of us has the skills to go out there and work on recruiting business development. We’re part-time commissioners. This is not our careers.”
Commissioner Craig Sommer said a full-time individual could work on not only retail but pretty much anything non-industrial. The Yankton Office of Economic Development focuses on that sector.
“What you need is to have somebody that is full time and out promoting Yankton and calling these developers every two weeks,” Sommer stated. “You don’t get back to them every six months. Without having somebody to do this, we’re at a big disadvantage to a Brookings, an Aberdeen or Omaha. Those towns have people actively going out and trying to do this for them. We’re just sitting here hoping that this new Menards is going to bring us a new strip mall or Target. We have no idea if that’s even been discussed with anybody yet.”
He said he was unaware of any contact with Greenbow Real Estate Partners, which is the developer for the Menards property, since city officials had visited with them during a retail convention earlier this year.
The commission also debated whether it wanted to encourage Mike Dellinger in the Office of Economic Development to begin pursuing retail development in addition to industrial growth.
Viereck reminded the commission that it will soon be interviewing for a new city manager.
“You know the success that can lead to,” he said. “I don’t think there is one of us that questions that Doug (Russell) is the reason Menards is here. What about challenging the new city manager and saying you’ll give him an administrative assistant?”
That employee could be charged with focusing on retail development, Viereck proposed.
Larson added that, when he was an employee of Orange City, Iowa, an assistant city manager focused on both retail development and events planning. Larson said he reported to that individual, who was able to give him the citywide assistance he needed for events.
Several on the commission said the idea of hiring an administrative assistant for the city manager who could take on these duties would be ideal. No one vocalized disapproval.
The commission agreed to come back to the issue in the future once a new city manager has been hired.