Multiple downtown Rockwall business owners spoke to the Rockwall City Council Monday night, expressing a hope for caution as the council considers street closures for downtown events throughout the coming year, citing the events’ impacts on business and parking.
Tammy Sharp, owner of T & T Color Supply downtown, presented the council with a poll of more than 20n downtown businesses, the owners of which collectively expressed their support for downtown events such as the Farmers Market, but also their opposition to additional street closures.
The event in question that has aroused the ire of multiple businesses downtown is a proposed Father’s Day event, including a car show and street vendors. The council ultimately voted not to approve any street closures for the additional event, though it did approve closures for the Downtown Rockwall Association’s four keystone events throughout the year.
“Farmers Market is a jewel of downtown Rockwall and to the community at-large,” Sharp said, noting the numerous occasions on which the Farmers Market decorates the downtown area for seasonal holidays. “Please consider future street closures and their impact on the entire downtown district.”
Amanda Romero, Director of Operations for Groovy’s, a downtown boutique, also spoke to the council, saying that, while the business wholeheartedly supports Farmers Market, downtown events can actually negatively impact downtown businesses due to the lack of parking created by street closures and larger crowds.
“Upon the excitement of passing the Downtown Improvement Bond, we quickly realized the impact of losing the parking that became San Jacinto Plaza,” Romero said. “Historically, on Downtown Rockwall Association event days when streets are closed, we do not see any increase in sales overall, with the exception of Spring Fling and Small Business Saturday in 2018.”
Romero added that Groovy’s attributes these exceptions to the rule to the store’s aggressive marketing campaigns coinciding with the events, and not the events themselves. She added further that, in the last year, Groovy’s opted out of any downtown “pub crawls” or other alcohol related events and saw no decrease in sales on those nights.
“Our concern with the coming proposed street closure that will be requested of (the Council) tonight... is that not only does it close off parking, but shows to bring additional vendors to the square,” she said. “If the concern is that there are many merchants struggling to make profits with a lack of continual foot traffic, then why bring additional vendors to downtown?”
Rockwall County Judge David Sweet also spoke during the public forum, taking a backward look at the revitalization of downtown Rockwall and encouraging both the council and downtown business owners to seek a solution that best suits the needs of all parties involved.
“I would encourage all, especially downtown leadership, to work together to offer events that reflect the desires and goals of all involved,” Sweet said. “It’s sometimes hard, and a consensus will never be perfect, but a more collaborative effort will work for all without disrupting success downtown.”
Conversely, Downtown Rockwall Association President Tamar Kolleck said that when the DRA plans events that deliberately involve downtown businesses, including Cinco de Mayo, the Rib Rub Run and Roll, Scare on the Square Downtown Hometown Christmas, those businesses do see a significant increase in profits and sales.
Kolleck also noted that Scare on the Square 2018 was even more of a success than in past years because it involved the closure of only one major street, minimizing disruption to normal businesses and through-traffic, and increasing available parking for participants in the event and business patrons alike.
“We also have a lot of additional events this year where we’ve opted to use San Jacinto Plaza instead of street closures, to try to minimize impact and the burden on the city,” Kolleck said.
In addition to the standard annual events, the DRA requested street closures on June 15 for the Father’s Day event, which Kolleck said is a unique new event. Since most downtown events focus on families or women, and that makes estimating its impact on business difficult, she said.
“We would be interested in bringing in vendors that would be different than what is offered in shops locally, particularly things men are interested in,” Kolleck said. “When we have vendors, we try to be mindful of who we bring in and what they’re selling so they aren’t direct competition to our downtown businesses.
“It may not be a big money day, and we know that, bugt what we do know is that when these men come to look at cars and shop from the vendors, they’ll bring their wives, and when there are cars, lots of couples want to come downtown together.”
Kolleck additionally proposed that the DRA use the San Jacinto Plaza-adjacent parking lot, owned by the city, and sell reserved parking spaces to raise money for future DRA events.
“At this time, I’m not inclined to vote for more closures,” Council member Trace Johanneson told Kolleck, citing the opposition of at least twenty downtown businesses. “For us to change that would, I think require some better data showing that a car show would increase profits. But I totally agree with your spirit, which is to further the success of downtown merchants, because I think all of us love downtown.”
Council members Dana Macalik and Kevin Fowler and mayor Jim Pruitt expressed similar sentiments.
“With twenty members opposed to this, that’s a substantial number of folks unhappy with the association wanting to do this,” Pruitt said. “The problem that we have is, ever time there’;s an event where we close that street (North San Jacinto), the city’s responsible for it. I just don’t think having a car show is the kind of thing the city wants to say ‘this is what we’ll close the streets for.’”
Pruitt also cited a past conflict between the city, DRA and downtown business over food trucks – at the time, the DRA supported the idea of food trucks in a downtown parking lot despite overwhelming opposition from business owners.
“You go, talk to the businesses downtown and come back as a united front as to what y’all want to do with additional closures,” Pruitt told Kolleck.
Editor's note: The print edition of this story included some minor but unsubstantial mistakes in its quotation of Amanda Romero, which have been corrected for this online edition.