There was a great turnout in today's RAAB meeting, in fact they could barely fit everyone into the small conference room. There was confusion as to the location of the meeting, so the primary newsworthy item is that the meeting will be continued 3:00 p.m. Monday when an actual motion will be made on West Street Market. But there was definitely lively discussion that lasted over two hours.
First up on the podium was Rick Martinez owner of West Street Wine bar in West Street Market. He talked about his experience at West Street Market, and mentioned he was always an open critic of downtown Reno, coming from Los Angeles. I can relate growing up in Los Angeles as well. He mentioned in the 16 months that he has been open, they've been extremely successful, has won several awards in papers, and feels that someone with a real passion for business can come down and open up shop at West Street and be successful as well. He stands behind the market 100%.
Then Gillian started the presentation, which is no different than my previous post about West Street so I won't get into too much detail. When Gillian reached the part of the presentation that involved getting a cabaret license for Se7en, that's when the discussion really took off.
Jim Galloway who was at the RAAB meeting representing the Palladio, cut into her presentation and wondered why Se7en has to get a cabaret license, when the Redevelopment Agency spent money to build the stage and sound system. It was explained by the code enforcement officer that because Se7en becomes a '21 and over' area, serves alcohol, books the bands that play there and charges admission for shows, that requires a cabaret license just like any other bar in town that serves alcohol and has live shows or prerecorded shows over a sound system. The sound system and stage was originally meant to be shared by all the tenants in the back room for public concerts the RDA would book.
So this brought up the discussion that what if the Redevelopment Agency booked all the shows instead of Se7en. The Redevelopment Agency doesn't need a cabaret license. Se7en mentioned the money they collect from the door at shows goes directly to the bands, and is not counted as profit to Se7en. Perhaps if RDA booked the shows and installed the panic bars on the doors so the capacity of the rear room would be increased, the process of requiring a cabaret license could be avoided. The other option would be Se7em gets a cabaret license, which would require approval from the owner for a Special Use Permit, the Cabaret License itself, and the conversion of all the tenant spaces in the rear of the market to be one space leased by Se7en, something Se7en said they were willing to consider.
Then Roberta Ross from Ross Manor and a guy representing the Plaza Resort Club (the tower just south of Riverwalk Tower on West Street) spoke up. Both were worried about the noise from concerts occurring after 10 pm, and Ross said she received complaints from residents about a few of the late night events at West Street Market. She asked the RAAB to really consider if turning West Street back into what it originally was (Green Room and Liquid Lounge) is the best long term answer for the market, and the Plaza Resort guy felt the same way.
Then it was public comment time! I'll summarize:
Scott Dunseff (spelling?) owner of Reno Envy mentioned that his business is up 40% this year from last year.
Then Dagny Stapleton, one of the board members, asked the West Street tenants (who were all at the meeting) if they feel they benefit directly and/or indirectly from Se7en having shows. Scott mentioned any time he can get eyeballs looking at his brand, even when they're closed, is a good thing. I will personally add that I've shown relatives/friends some of their products through Reno Envy's security gate when they're closed, which probably resulted in subsequent business transactions later on. Nico from Nico's Greek Kitchen was there, and mentioned the events help him stay open later, and is considering a pizza place in the market to serve late night customers. Bob Infantino (Spelling?) who is opening a NEW art gallery in the market, agreed with Scott...the more eyeballs that are exposed to his business, even when he is closed, the better. Rick Martinez from West Street Wine Bar mentioned it reminds him of a small version of a typical la 'scene' where in one section there's a chill out lounge, and in another section live music happening, etc. I know what he means. I remember a social gathering place called Orbit in Los Angeles, which was 7 floors high and had everything from a restaurant to a ballroom to live punk bands on different floors. No market tenants had problems with Se7en throwing concerts after 10:00 and most felt it was a positive thing for their own business as well.
Linda, owner of Downtown Marketplace, suggested that maybe if the tenants took on more of a group responsibility for being able to schedule events, it would help them more.
Ultimately, no decision was made, because John Shipman felt the confusion between where the meeting location was warrants repeating the same agenda again and holding off on a motion until Monday. The City Council is supposed to discuss this next Wednesday, but the RAAB can ask the council to postpone the agenda item if the RAAB feels they need more time to make a recommendation and motion.
From the tone of everyone in the meeting, it sounds like closing the market is not in the cards as a recommendation to the council. But most of the meeting was focused on Se7en, and I have a feeling Monday's meeting may be a bit more numbers oriented. Everyone on the board 'seemed' in agreement that Se7en should indeed be able to be host to late night shows, especially if other tenants feel they benefit from it. Some on the board wanted specific cost breakdowns on if the market remained open, closed. And Dick ended the meeting by reminding everyone who serious the city's financial situation is. No one made any solid decisions or conclusions.
SO. What to do, what to do. I was a little disappointed that the meeting became more of a micro-discussion on what to do with Se7en's dilemma, and not the wider dilemma of the market itself, but I havea feeling that will change a bit in the next meeting.
Right now, there's no marketing person, no PR person, and no manager for the market. The marketing budget was obliterated with cut backs. Here are some ideas that won't necessarily solve the larger problem, but would help tremendously:
1. Web Site - My own West Street Market page receives hundreds of visitors per month so I KNOW the official West Street Market page receives a ton of traffic, because it ranks above me in search engines. Right now, there are zero events in the calendar http://www.renoweststreetmarket.com/events/ yet I see events posted for West Street on Facebook all the time. The last 'Announcement' on the site was from December 2009 - The tenants are worried about negative publicity making them look bad, yet no one once mentioned their own web site makes the entire market look about as fun as a root canal, when in reality the market is a REALLY cool spot to hang out. Recraft the web site so tenants get their own pages to post stuff, more of a directory format, because RDA in its current staffing and budget structure will not be able to maintain this site the way it really needs to be maintained and updated. Heck, I'll even donate time to do it. And let's take off 'A Reno Redevelopment Agency Project' in giant letters across the top mast. That's about as sexy as slapping a giant billboard on the baseball stadium calling it "an urban catalyst project". Let's take better advantage of the web visitors the web site is currently getting. Put bios of each business up instead of just linking to web sites that don't work. Show me the wines I can get at Rick's place. Show me that Nico carves meat right off a spindle like a true Greek instead of slapping it in a microwave. Show me that I can go browse art, see a great concert at Se7en, grab some Greek, then mellow out with a glass of wine at the wine bar all in one location. Show me all the places I can park easily.
2. Marketing Plan / Master Plan - Much like Community Development handles creating a neighborhood plan to guide neighborhood development, I think a master plan for West Street Market should be created, something beyond just a few-paragraph-long vision. IF the City of Reno commits to continuing the market concept as the direction they want to proceed with WSM, then work with existing tenants to develop a master plan, which includes solid concepts for leasing the remaining spaces that would benefit the existing tenants the most AND draw in customers from beyond walking distance to the market DURING THE DAY and night. Create an action plan which includes strategies that the existing tenants can implement. Something that can be presented as a marketing tool to prospective tenants, so they see there's a solid vision. What's the plan next winter? Hope for the best? Or think of winter-centric ways the patio can be used. Maybe a couple of marketing firms could hold workshops for tenants and RDA (neither of whom are probably marketing experts, no offense) on ways tenants would be able to contribute time to market West Street Market as a whole, and market it to a larger region (i.e. people in Portland see commercials for Pike's Place in Seattle, etc). Also in this plan, include specific goals, such as additional signage for the businesses inside, or maybe cool art signage in the median with different business names, stuff like that. That way, when tidbits of money becomes available, or the tenants want to save their money for something specific, they have a guide, instead of everything being so random. If the city can't afford it, show the tenants how they can create their own action plan for the entire market, not just their tenant space.
3. Integrate / Network - Maybe I'm just stating the obvious and it's already been done, but has anyone approached the art committees/Nevada Museum of Art to use the patio / indoor area for art workshops in the winter? What about events like Green Drinks? I'm trying to think of events that could be held there to get traffic in the door in the winter time. What about bingo for seniors? Stuff like that? What about having a ski swap at the market? Flea markets or art fairs in the winter?
4. Gift Certificates - Implement gift certificates and cards that would work for the entire market, much like Summit Sierra does. http://www.thesummitonline.com/reno/summit-gift-cards.html
5. History - Let's get the Nevada Historical Society involved on how the history of this building can be included in their walking tour brochures.
6. Monthly Newsletter - A simple, print-at-Kinkos monthly newsletter with wine reviews from Rick, new designs from Reno Envy, cherished Greek recipes from the Greek Kitchen, and a tea of the month from Se7en teahouse with detailed info and history etc. This newsletter would also include a store guide, directions, parking suggestions and map.
Those are some of my ideas that might draw in more folks. My prediction is the council will give West Street Market at least another year to give it a go, but more has to be done than to simply keep it open. I'll post a reminder about Monday's meeting as the date draws closer. For me, the jury's still out on what to do with Se7en. If it is going to cost a lot of money to modify the building (i.e. add additional restrooms, fire panic bars on doors, reconfiguring the back room etc) then maybe a different solution is appropriate.
And finally, for inspiration to save the market and spark some ideas, here are my favorites that I've personally taken in all the time I've spent at the market. (It's not about bad publicity, Rick...posting articles like this fosters dicussions, dialog and ideas on what to do with the market.)