Commission extends Arts, Beats and Eats contract

DDA expected to vote on 2017 extension June 19

By: Robert Guttersohn | Royal Oak Review | Published June 11, 2013

ROYAL OAK — Despite the pleas of a downtown business owner who claimed the annual Arts, Beats and Eats hurts local retailers, the City Commission approved June 3 the extension of the city’s contract with the festival through 2017.

The vote was 5-1 with Commissioner Peggy Goodwin dissenting.

Because the contract is a three-way agreement, the Downtown Development Authority and John Witz, the director of Arts, Beats and Eats, must also approve and sign the contract.

The DDA meets June 19 and is expected to vote on the contract at that meeting.

There are several amendments to the pending extension.

For example, it creates strict time constraints for the festival, not allowing the event to go beyond 11:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10 p.m. on Monday, unless granted a half-hour extension on each day.

The pending contract also prevents Witz from selling his majority share of the festival without city approval — something Witz has verbally agreed to in meetings with the DDA.

The current contract goes only to December 2015.

Ann Kuffler, owner of Ariana Gallery, said the commission needs to speak with retailers in the downtown to understand why some of them are against the festival.

“I don’t think any of you understand the ramifications of the Arts, Beats and Eats on our retail business,” Kuffler said. “It is severe. It is destructive. It is the type of event that doesn’t add well to the image of Royal Oak.”

She said it fills the city with drunks, and the stages and tents block access to the local retailers.

“We have to respect the people who are here every day for us, who pay the taxes, who come and make Royal Oak what it is: a beautiful, adequate city with a variety of businesses and a variety of people coming to it,” Kuffler said.

She asked the commission to wait on voting until after the completion of a survey — which she requested at a previous meeting — of local businesses on how Arts, Beats and Eats affects their business.

City Manager Don Johnson days later said he had not been given a directive from the commission to send out a survey to downtown business owners.

Goodwin has maintained that extending the contract to 2017 will tie the hands of future commissioners.

“I do believe we should do some more due diligence,” Goodwin said, adding that the decision should be halted until at least after a survey is completed.

“There should be some continual improvements every year,” Goodwin added. “So I hope stakeholders can come together in some form and work with the city and work with DDA to strengthen it.”

Commissioners who voted for the extension said that they agreed that how the festival is run should constantly be improving and evolving and that extending the contract won’t prevent that.

Commissioner Jim Rasor, whose law office is downtown, agreed that property owners should have a say in the festival and said Witz has been willing to work with them.

“Stakeholders should have a way of giving feedback in this, and I think Mr. Witz is open to that,” Rasor said.

Rasor said that he remembered downtown Royal Oak during Labor Day weekends prior to Arts, Beats and Eats.

“There was no business anywhere,” Rasor said. “There was nobody in town. This festival brings millions of dollars to the businesses of this community, to the charities of the community, and provides a great venue for people to have staycations, especially with $4-a-gallon gas prices.”

Rasor encouraged business owners to “speak as a group” and communicate with their representatives to deal with problems.

Mayor Jim Ellison said some businesses have claimed the festival has improved their business during the holiday weekend.

“Every retailer I went to said Labor Day weekend is one of their slowest weekends of the year,” Ellison said. “And they were welcoming anything to come in and add business.”