City Manager Michael Penny is asking Littleton City Council to approve up to $100,000 to pay a full-time event planner and an additional $135,000 to carry out the events starting in 2014.
“Increased funding to special events will increase the quality and quantity of messaging and events that strengthen the city’s image and bring in new visitors and revenue,” he wrote in the proposed budget that council began reviewing Sept. 9. It will hear the budget ordinance on first reading Oct 1.
Penny notes that residents indicated strong support for Littleton to increase its self-promotion in both the business and citizen surveys conducted last year. Eighty percent of residents said it’s essential or very important, and 97 percent of businesses said they support strengthening the community’s image.
Penny anticipates spending $35,000 on a downtown branding and sign plan, and $17,500 on marketing.
Although several councilors pointed out there is more to Littleton than just downtown, Penny said that’s where the focus would be.
“It’s what sets us apart,” he said.
The Historic Downtown Littleton Merchants — an independent board not affiliated with the city — has historically taken the lead on downtown events, hosting the Pumpkin Follies and Goat Show, the Littleton Block Party, the Turkey Leg and Wine Hoedown and more each year. Penny said he envisions working in partnership with HDLM going forward.
“This is not a government takeover of downtown,” he said.
Greg Reinke, HDLM president, said the board is generally supportive of the concept.
“As long as things don’t change, and as long as it doesn’t become a hindrance,” he said.
Penny has already changed the tradition of automatically providing in-kind support for the block party, instead making HDLM apply for a $20,000 donation from the city, what he says is the actual value of services like police, paramedics and clean-up crews.
“We want you guys to know what it actually costs, and you might think maybe it’s not worth us putting those dollars in,” he told council.
Councilor Jim Taylor wondered why Penny didn’t require the same process for Western Welcome Week’s Festival Day, perhaps the most recognizable downtown event. WWW is also its own entity, a nonprofit affiliated with neither the city nor the merchants’ association.
“It’s taken two years for us to get HDLM to play in this sandbox,” said Penny. “We will work with (WWW) to get to that point.”
Councilor Peggy Cole wondered if they should try working with a contractor to test the waters before hiring a full-time event planner.
“I’d prefer we have somebody who is beholden to us, and to me, and to the council and the community,” said Penny.
Mayor Debbie Brinkman, on the other hand, wanted to pay even more to attract high-quality candidates for the job.
“People have said for years and years and years that we keep ourselves the best-kept secret,” she said.