Talking about Pumpkin Festival and Spanish Village

Sculptor Ray Villafane (l) and Spanish Village owner Bruce Raskin (r) display a preliminary mock-up of a large sculpture that may be installed at the west end of Spanish Village.

During the discussion on the consent agenda it was noted that the Town of Carefree had a surplus last year of over one million dollars. However, that money and more will be spent on road projects in this fiscal year.

Councilman Gene Orrico stepped down to the podium to address the Council as a citizen in the call to the public. He said he could no longer sit quietly and watch what happened at the last Council Meeting. Calling it a “Scripted, methodical, verbal trashing of a fellow Councilperson,” Orrico, who is the immediate past president of the local Kiwanis club as well as sitting on other municipal boards, said he has “never heard a bashing the way unfortunately, Mayor Peterson, Vice Mayor Crane, and our Town Attorney, Michael Wright who I thought, I was under the impression that we are just supposed to get just legal advice on matters that we need, as opposed to grandstanding.” Saying Wright was acting like, “Johnnie Cochran having the case of the century”.

He next addressed marketing matters. Saying the Town has promoted the Civana resort, he showed an advertisement for Civana which included the phrase “Greater Scottsdale’s first wellness resort.” Orrico added, “It doesn’t say Carefree’s wellness resort, even though they are in Carefree.” Also exhibited was a piece promoting the Fourth of July drone show, which the Town contributed funds to, that showed only Civana’s name not mentioning Carefree. He added, “We’re wasting money on a place that has their own marketing. We don’t need to market them at all.”

He said the reason he and Councilman Farrar voted against the budget both this year and last year is the “outlandish marketing spending” in the Town Budget. He challenged people to find another small town of 3500 that “has an approved line item budget of $558,912”. Orrico, whose wife is a small business owner in the town core, later said, “I’m trying to figure out what we’re marketing because we definitely aren’t marketing the merchants in our town. That’s why we see so many signs with Councilman Farrar’s name on it.” He added that
Council is disconnected from the merchants.

Mayor Peterson countered part of Orrico’s statements by showing an ad for the Fourth of July drones that did have the name Carefree featured on it.

A presentation was made to the Council by CenterPoint Events to organize and run this year’s Enchanted Pumpkin Garden. Josh Friedman Owner and Event Director at CenterPoint said his plans are to add to the event without having to have Town employees work on the event. His ideas include having a second stage for musical performances throughout the day, a haunted house, hay ride, increasing the number of vendor booths, and increasing the options for children’s activities.

Friedman also looked at ways to increase revenues. He said vendors had told him they undervalued the event regarding vendor fees. So in addition to getting money through more vendors, the vendor fees will be increased as well. Enhancing the kids’ area with bouncy houses and a petting zoo and other features is projected to provide another source of increased revenue. He said last year the beverage sales were handled by a third party vendor who got 75 percent of the money with 25 percent going to a nonprofit. This year 25 percent of the drink dollars will still go to a nonprofit, with the rest going to the Town. Overall he expects to nearly double the revenues from 2017.

Last year, excluding pumpkin carver Ray Villafane’s contract, Carefree spent $62,000 on the Pumpkin Festival and had $41,000 in revenues, losing $21,000. Friedman’s predictions have the Town increasing their expenses to $70,000 but revenues are projected at $77,000 netting the Town $7,000. He said sponsorships and other revenue sources are still being explored. Hiring CenterPoint would reduce stress on staff and volunteers, and according to Friedman, allow staff to meet with people and show off the Town and show off what’s in Town. CenterPoint has been managing events for over 15 years.

Councilman Stephen Hatcher asked if there was any consideration given to charging admission. Councilwoman Cheryl Kroyer responded that it was decided to not charge admission this year, but that may be explored in the future. Councilman Orrico asked if the local merchants would be charged fees if they participate in the event. Friedman said it depends on what they are doing, adding that he would like to have a meeting with all the merchants in the area, to bring them out and get them involved in the event.

Councilman Farrar pointed out that the previous dollar figures for the event did not include Villafane’s costs and the Town would still be losing money on the event. Friedman said he believes that in a few years the event could be self-sustaining, however to take an event that expended $160,000 last year and turn it around to make profitable in one year was not realistic. He said, “I believe we’re making a huge step for that.”

Friedman says the Town dealt with individual contractors for lights, bounce houses, etc. CenterPoint would be the sole contractor for the Town to deal with. CenterPoint would bear the burden of lining up all the individual pieces needed to hold the event.

Farrar indicated that the Council had not received any of the underlying data prior to the meeting. He suggested tabling the motion to review it. Saying, “It’s really unfair to Council to present this and ask the Council to say vote on it and approve it.” We’re just seeing it for the first time.” He added.

Councilman Hatcher says he looks at this situation as a transitioning, getting the events over to the private sector to run. Farrar said it’s only been in the last few years that the Town became an event promoter. Farrar said the Town should have private promoters running all the events. Mayor Peterson said, “We tried what you are suggesting and it was a disaster. They were tag sales. They were garage sales. That’s not what this Town is. That’s what you want to go back to.”

Farrar disagreed saying a business owner told him, “Mike, why are you trying to be the Paradise Valley of the north? When that’s not who are customers are.” Farrar said the events could be done well if the private sector was engaged.

Michael Krahe spoke up saying the Council was going down a ‘bunny trail’. The Councilman said, “We have a great proposal in front of us. We’re moving directionally to reduce our costs and ultimately make money off of these events.” Indicating the Council had gotten off track by talking about businesses and people when, “We’re here to talk about this proposal and make a decision are we going to do this. That’s what’s on the table.” He then made a motion to accept the proposal.

After getting assertions from Friedman that the Town would vet the vendors, the footprint of the event would not be substantially increased, and no additional streets would be closed, the motion passed 5-2 with Farrar and Orrico casting the no votes.

Bruce Raskin, owner of Spanish Village, made a presentation to the Council regarding the revitalization of the property. In the introduction, the Mayor praised the work that has been done with the property. In the two years since purchasing what is now officially called ‘Historic Spanish Village’, which was the first commercial property constructed in Carefree, occupancy has grown from 22 percent to 80 percent.

Raskin said it has been harder than expected to get people into Spanish Village. He said, “People for some reason don’t shop in Carefree anymore.” He said he’d like to see the Town “get people into the Town to shop, to eat, to spend time here.” He said the Town does do a good job with the festivals, “but those events are not getting people to shop in Carefree.”
The people are coming to attend these events but are not coming to have lunch or to purchase things from the galleries the way that it occurred years ago.

He said shopping trends are changing and the community needs to come up with a way to get people to come to Carefree not just for the festivals an events. One idea he mentioned was to have a treasure hunt to get people to wander around town and leave the events. He said questions about how to get more people to walk around the town are not being asked.
The Town’s signage laws are also a concern for Raskin, “The signage standards in the Town are very, very limiting.” He said. He acknowledged that the Town staff is working with him to explore improved codes.

Another idea Raskin offered was to have art installations throughout the Town to create a desire in the visitors to explore around the Town to discover these works of art. “We need to do more I think, as a community, to generate the traffic, to get the interest of the people to want to walk around town.” He said. He said he has engaged Ray Villafane with the intention of putting a major art piece on a part of the property owned by Spanish Village located behind the fire station.

Villafane, who is also a tenant at Spanish Village, unveiled a preliminary mock-up of the proposed project. According to Villafane the actual size would be about 35 feet across and over 20 feet tall. From the back the sculpture looks like a pile of boulders, from the front a seated stone figure. Raskin said that throughout his travels in the United States and abroad, he often encounters art work or statues that are iconic for that area. If you go to that area, you have to go there and see that.

Raskin says his plans also include having events in that area, music for example, that will get people into that area both when there are events in the gardens and as a way to get more people in to the Town and to Historic Spanish Village. He said they are doing it for all the businesses, “It won’t just benefit us at Spanish Village.” When people think of Carefree, Raskin wants them to think, “What’s new in Carefree?” and inspire them to come and what around and explore the Town.

Councilwoman Cheryl Kroyer said they have tried get local businesses, particularly the restaurants in town, to participate in the events in the gardens. She asked Raskin what he thought was the reason local businesses don’t participate. “It’s a communication issue mainly.” He replied. “You’re not speaking the same language or you’re just not listening to each other.” Raskin says there is a lot of history in the Town that people need to let go of. “Now what we need to do is figure out what’s the next steps to help these shops. I’ve got tenants that could be out of business next year because there is nobody shopping in their stores this summer.” “There’s no ‘Shop Carefree’ campaign. The people that live in town don’t shop in Carefree and that doesn’t make any sense to me.” He said.

He suggested that the Town needs to let people know about local businesses, use the Town’s newsletter to let people know about local businesses.

Ray Villafane let the Council in on some his plans for this year’s Enchanted Pumpkin Garden, including having some his characters be created with stop motion capabilities and plans to name them Gordy Ghouligan and His Carefree Houligans.